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Group advocates for better transit options in rural Utah

UTAH, USA - JULY 13, 1029: Interstate I-15 traffic towards Salt Lake City
jovannig -
UTAH, USA - JULY 13, 1029: Interstate I-15 traffic towards Salt Lake City

A coalition of Utah stakeholders is launching the "Campaign for Public Transit in the 435," which will aim to bring better forms of transit to those who live in rural areas and engage legislators in the process.

Scott Mershon, Cache County resident and one of the organizers of the 435 Transit Campaign, said 435 is the phone area code for many who reside in the more rural parts of the state and are typically found outside the Wasatch Front. The 10-county coalition will be advocating for $47 million in new state funding to realize public transit projects of different kinds.

"It is looking to get either some sort of train extension on the FrontRunner or on existing railroad tracks or a bus to just be able to get out of the valley, and then there are other projects as well in Washington County, and expanding bus services and making them more reliable," Mershon said.

Mershon added lack of transportation can mean Utahns can experience challenges in securing a job because they can't get to work, to not being able to attend medical appointments as well as not seeing family and friends. A survey from Guiding our Growth found those in rural Utah strongly supported implementing public transportation, and investing in passenger rail came in a close second.

Carolyn Heaton, a researcher for the 435 Transit Action Campaign, said the current funding formulas don't equitably address rural parts of the state. She argues a bigger budget would lead to better planning. Heaton and others will be heading to the state Capitol tomorrow to educate decision makers about transportation challenges and invite them to also visit their respective communities to learn about barriers.

"Some communities do have bussing situations, but there are not enough buses, not enough people who are willing to drive the bus, and not enough funding to fund those departments to provide more buses and jobs for people to drive," she explained.

Heaton added for many Utahns who don't have a car, that means they're stuck. She added there are many people across the Beehive State with disabilities who can't drive but still need to get around. Others would prefer alternative, more green modes of transit to create less of a carbon footprint, and added that investing in better public transit would do just that.