Tag Archives: city debt

Provo’s Big BRT Boondoggle

Perhaps a better headline for this blog entry would be… “Provo Sells Its Residents Deeper into Financial Bondage in Order to Squander Millions of Their Hard-Earned Dollars on a Tax-Wasting Traffic-Congesting Slightly-Faster Bus Service That Barely Anyone Demanded.”

The Utah Transit Authority’s (UTA’s) new Utah Valley Express (UVX) bus line will finally begin operating on August 13th (Monday), nearly two decades after Utahn politicians first conceived it.  This bus service is a form of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), which uses special buses (and bus stops) to convey riders at a somewhat-more-rapid pace than a standard bus could; it will transport its passengers back-and-forth along major Provo-Orem thoroughfares (both through Provo’s downtown and alongside Orem’s University Mall) between southwest Orem’s FrontRunner station (near Utah Valley University) and south Provo’s East Bay area (near Provo’s South Towne Centre mall).

This massive public-works project was joint-venture between federal and state and local politicians, who cooperated to compel hundreds-of-millions of U. S. taxpayers from Key West to Prudhoe Bay (although especially here in Utah) to spend over $200,000,000 altogether to reconstruct our local city streets to accommodate this new bus service, while leaving every Provo/Orem household burdened with repaying nearly $1,200 (plus interest) of added municipal debt.  That’s a tremendous of money to pay, which might be alright if it were being used to construct a highly-demanded service that would greatly improve our local (or even national) quality-of-life.

So, what did we get in return for that massive financial investment, along with enduring all of the hassles of road-reconstruction over this last year?  Well, it seems that (during its peak hours of operation) Provo residents can now wait up to 10 minutes (at most) to catch a fancy new bus that will transport them to their destination up to 10 minutes (at most) faster than driving.  Yes, that’s what we got, which is arguably not much (if any) of an advantage!  Moreover, this dubious advantage is only true as long as both one’s origin and one’s destination lie along the same select 10-mile-long strip of Provo-Orem city streets—which, for the vast majority of us, is a relatively rare occurrence.

The rarity of having both one’s origin and one’s destination confined to a single 10-mile-long path, plus the very-marginal improvements in transit-time that Bus Rapid Transit provides over standard bus service, together help to explain why the greatest demand for this BRT service has never come from UTA riders but from Utahn politicians.  In fact, Provo’s city councilors have previously admitted that there is insufficient public demand to justify the UTA providing BRT service to Provo/Orem at this time—but, despite this fact, they chose to support the development of BRT anyway, while assuring us that public demand for BRT would increase as Utah County continues to grow rapidly.  Although this claim may be true, it’s also arguably exaggerated, because nearly all Utah County growth is (so far) bypassing the Provo/Orem area to enlarge other nearby cities, especially those cities situated across Utah Lake that are not located anywhere near the UVX route—so, if we Provoans need to wait for ongoing local population growth to justify the existence of BRT, then we might need to wait for a very very VERY long time.

As an aside, it may be worth noting that demand for BRT is currently insufficient despite the fact that UTA fares are already heavily subsidized—in fact, according to a state audit in 2008, for every $1 that UTA riders paid in bus fare, Utah taxpayers were charged $4 to cover the rest, whether they liked it or not.  Such forcible taking is not only sinful but criminal, as a matter of principle, whereas freely giving is a wonderful thing that’s good to freely encourage.  In any case, considering the fact that standard UTA bus service has already been a severe money-pit for Utahns for years, it’s arguably reasonable to suspect that the UTA’s newly-built completely-subsidized insufficiently-demanded BRT service may prove to be an even bigger boondoggle for our city than its shoddy money-losing iProvo network was a decade ago.  Such business ventures are arguably better deferred to actual entrepreneurs than to politicians who like to play entrepreneur.

If local demand for BRT is to grow significantly at all, then it will result less likely from any ongoing population growth than from Provo’s city council gradually achieving its “Vision 2030” and/or “Vision 2050” goals for our city.  These documents are more than mere vision statements, but they have been actively guiding our city councilors in centrally-planning our city’s future, and they include various socialistic goals for Provo such as “sustainable development,” along with the closely-related concept of “Smart Growth” (or “New Urbanism”).  Smart Growth involves allegedly saving our natural environment from urban sprawl by exercising political power to forcibly redirect a city’s economic development from its outskirts to its downtown, which then develops into a high-density urbanesque walkable core served by public transit.  And this is precisely what both of these documents clearly envision for Provo’s future.

So, if Provo’s central planners continue to implement their collectivistic vision for our city, then we’ll likely see artificially-fewer suburban homes in west Provo and artificially-more urbanesque high-rises in downtown Provo.  However, this probably isn’t exactly what will happen, because most people relocating to the Provo area who are faced with the disappointment of forgoing a Provo home for a Provo apartment will probably just bypass Provo altogether to go live in a nearby city like Vineyard—which is exactly what they have already been doing.  Even so, Provo’s downtown population is still definitely growing, and its rising faction of quasi-urbanites will soon be able to enjoy a free cushy bus ride to either a mall or a FrontRunner station entirely at taxpayer expense.

Yes, I wrote entirely at taxpayer expense.  Rides along the UVX route will not merely be subsidized by Utah taxpayers like rides on other UTA routes (as previously mentioned), but they will apparently be billed entirely to U. S. taxpayers for at least 3 years through a U. S. Department of Transportation grant.  So, whenever riders step on those buses, they won’t pay a cent at their time-of-service, but they (along with hundreds-of-millions of other citizens from Honolulu to Bangor) will be billed for that bus ride in the form of federal taxes at some point, whether they like it or not.  Which, again, is wrong—our political system should help us to defend our rights from others’ aggression, not compel us to pay each other’s bills.

It’s bad enough that we Provoans are being forced to both construct and maintain an insanely-expensive taxpayer-money-guzzling underdemanded bus service that hardly anyone wanted and the vast majority of us will rarely (if ever) use… but it’s even worse that this bus service seems well-designed to impede the flow of “normal” traffic around our city.  Until now, this same UVX bus route was served by normal UTA buses that were simply one vehicle among many on our city streets, both using the same traffic lanes and obeying the same traffic signals as all other vehicles around them—but, now, these BRT buses will have their own special center lanes all to themselves, which are seemingly narrowing all other lanes around them while entirely eliminating at least some of the helpful left-turn lanes that Provoan drivers have been using.  This may contribute to widespread traffic congestion while rendering it significantly harder for many of us to speedily get from one point to another—so, basically, hundreds of private car-drivers will arrive at their destinations slower, in order for dozens of public bus-riders will get to their destinations just a tiny bit faster, which doesn’t sound like a very worthwhile trade to me.  Perhaps we should have expected this, though, because this is exactly what our city council envisioned in both Vision 2030 and Vision 2050—deliberately slowing the flow of private traffic while deliberately giving preference to public transportation.  So, we can’t say that we weren’t warned—and in writing, to boot!

Just as our city councilors warned us about what they were planning, this blog entry should perhaps also warn us that, unless we start to choose our city’s public officers more wisely, then they’re going to keep doing more of the same.  BRT is just one step among many their plans, and they’ve already informed us well about what other steps they’re planning to take.  In fact, their vision statements have been surprisingly clear about the sort of socialistic dystopia that they seek for us—one in which they centrally-manage our city’s economy (and its development), regulate its Internet, redistribute its demographics, and even oversee our health and diet and exercise and recreation and such, all with relatively little respect for our rightful liberty.  Perhaps they’ve been so surprisingly forthright about such plans because relatively few Provoans seem to notice (much less object) to what they’re doing enough to pose a serious threat to their goals.  Please prove them wrong!

Perhaps the “bottom line” of this Free Provo blog entry is that, if you value preserving and/or restoring the relatively virtuous free society that helped Provo to develop over time into one of America’s best cities, then please get involved NOW to build support among your neighbors to elect better city officers next year.  And, if you discover that our website helps you at all with that task, then please feel free to use it accordingly.  Happy doorknocking!


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Provo’s Proposed City Center

Provo’s city council is currently considering how to replace its current city center.

Reportedly, those deliberations have mostly been conducted behind closed doors so far, which is quite curious.  Secrecy is entirely inappropriate for the government of a free people, as great men like Patrick Henry have recognized, with rare exceptions (such as concealing sensitive information from adversaries during wartime).  Beyond those rare exceptions, we citizens need to know what’s going on—otherwise, we can’t effectively govern ourselves as we should.  We would do well to discover why our current city officers don’t want us to be privy to their discussions about our city’s future.  What might they be trying to hide?

In any case, a new city center may be needed, since the current city center is seismically unsound—plus, it was built during the 1970s and, over these last four decades, it has increasingly struggled with the effects of both both overcrowding and aging.  As for aging, it is reportedly suffering from structural cracks, water damage, mold, and some (cosmetic) loss of stucco.   And, as for overcrowding, some of Provo’s city bureaucrats are reportedly using janitors’ closets for offices or jail cells for storage, while others estimate that they “need” more than twice as much space as they presently have.  However, this overcrowding may be needless—although some has almost certainly resulted from the amazing doubling of Provo’s population since the 1970s, the rest may have resulted from Provo’s city officers aspiring to do far more than merely help defend residents’ rights, but to actively run the entire city by multiplying ordinances while engaging in central economic planning.  Such arrogated power generally results in more hired bureaucrats who require more space in which to work—and, so, if Provo didn’t maintain such a statist city government, then it probably wouldn’t need so much additional workspace.  And less workspace would also require less cost.

Speaking of costs, they may be high for this new city center.  Provo’s most expensive building ever built was (and perhaps still is) Novell’s building H, which cost nearly $90 million to construct in 2000, and Provo’s new city center is projected to cost between $44.5 million and $59.7 million.  This would definitely cost more than the $39.5 million Provo Recreation Center completed in 2013, and far more than the lovely (but money-losing) Covey Center for the Arts nextdoor to the current city center, which cost about $8.5 million to build circa 2007.  The expensiveness of a new city center is apparently partly due to rising construction costs, which doubled between 2013 and 2018—and it might be worth asking why these costs have recently skyrocketed.  It might also help to scrutinize these proposals to ensure that they’re not overpriced.

This isn’t the first time that Provo’s city officers have considered selling Provo residents into financial bondage to fund massive public-works projects.  They spent $40 million circa 2004 to build a sloppily-managed shoddily-built money-losing fiberoptic network that they eventually sold for $1 to Google Fiber, which replaced much of this network for failing to meet its high standards.  They then spent another $39.5 million circa 2013 for the Provo Recreation Center, which is doing alright so far, but which would fare even better (especially in the long run) under private-sector management.  And they plus their Orem counterparts are now jointly spending another $65 million (plus about twice that much from both state and federal taxpayers) for a Bus Rapid Transit system that they’ve admitted isn’t sufficiently demanded by UTA riders to justify its existence, even at the UTA’s 80%ish-taxpayer-subsidized rates.  They claim that BRT will become demanded as Utah County grows rapidly, but they seem to be conveniently overlooking the fact that nearly all present Utah County growth is bypassing Provo (which has only grown 4% or so since 2010) for places like Elk Ridge, Vineyard, Highland, and especially the cities west of Utah Lake, which are nowhere near BRT lines.  Considering this sort of fiscal history, we would do well to scrutinize their current spending proposals.

Whatever may develop with this proposed new city center, we Provoans definitely need to uphold better candidates to city office—virtuous wise statespeople who will respect our equal God-given rights, rather than statists who would eagerly sell us into financial bondage in order to play entrepreneur, or hire swarms of officers to eat our substance as they try to politically control our municipal economy.  That will only happen if we can persuade enough of our neighbors to join us.  Please go do so—and please feel free to use our Free Provo website if it helps any.


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