ST. GEORGE — The idea of a bus route between St. George and Springdale moved a little closer to reality with the recent passing of an agreement between Washington County and St. George.
For many years now, local and county officials have considered the possibility of a transit route between St. George and the entrance to Zion National Park. However, while the concept was studied and discussed, funding has been a roadblock for the project.
That began to change in 2018 when the Utah Department of Transportation announced it would pledge $15 million toward the implementation of such a bus route. Additional, ongoing funding would be secured by the county a year later with the adoption of a county-wide 0.25% sales tax aimed at funding transportation infrastructure and public transit service.
Under state law, 40% of the 0.25% sales tax is committed to public transit funding. The rest goes toward transportation infrastructure upkeep.
“This is really a unique opportunity for us and the way we’ve been able to study it and work it out with the growth in our economy; the 0.40% meets and fills the bill very nicely,” Washington County Commissioner Dean Cox said prior to the commission approving the interlocal agreement with the City of St. George.
As the Springdale-to-St. George route is anticipated to become an extension of St. George’s own SunTran bus service, the agreement voted on by the commission provides a way for the county and city to come together and figure out how to continue running the bus route if the preexisting funding options somehow fall short in the future.
The County Commission unanimously passed the interlocal agreement during its March 2 meeting and is one of two agreements that Cameron Cutler, St. George’s public works director, previously said he and others were waiting on before moving from project concepts to design.
With the agreement passed, the second one SunTran officials are waiting to see approved is between St. George and UDOT.
“With those two agreements, it will give us the go-ahead to start working on our end,” Cutler said during last month’s online Dixie Regional Transportation Expo. “For SunTran, we’ll be able to order buses, to build a new facility and design charging stations.”
The new route is anticipated to include six electric buses – four for general use and two as backups when the regular buses are in the shop so service isn’t disrupted.
As for what the bus route will look like, Cutler said he has some concepts in mind, but nothing concrete has been designed yet.
“We know we want to go from St. George to Springdale,” he said, reiterating all he had right now were concepts and estimates. Once the last of the agreements are approved, concepts can finally go to design, and then from design to reality.
Cutler also estimated that the new route will include express routes and local routes.
Express routes would have minimal stops and possibly have a time of 1 hour and 10 minutes, while local routes would have multiple stops along the way and take longer to complete.
Infrastructure-wise, UDOT currently leases a piece of property from the Bureau of Land Management that sits near St. George’s re-use center on Brigham Road. The state agency told St. George officials the city can use a part of that property for a new maintenance facility and changing station for the new buses, Cutler said.
“This new route almost doubles our staff at SunTran,” he said. “That’s how much of an undertaking it is.”
Once operational, the St. George-to-Springdale bus route is seen as a way to help take some pressure off state Route 9 leading to Zion National Park. The park itself sees millions of visitors annually who bring a lot of vehicle traffic with them.
It is also believed by local mayors, whose communities the route will pass through, that area residents will use the bus services to go to and from work. This is considered particularly true for people who work in Springdale, but do not live there.
Between St. George and Springdale are the cities and towns of Washington City, Hurricane, LaVerkin, Virgin and Rockville.
The $15 million supplied by UDOT will be used to help with the start-up cost of the new route. From there, it is anticipated that funds from the 0.25% sales tax, federal transportation grants and ticket sales will provide self-sustaining funding.
“We feel the route will sustain itself,” Cutler said.
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