In a live Facebook feed on Wednesday, Mayor Jackie Biskupski announced her nomination of Sen. Jim Dabakis to represent Salt Lake City on the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) Board of Trustees.
“My top priority was finding someone who could represent the people of Salt Lake City in an honest and forthright manner on the UTA Board,” said Mayor Biskupski in a statement.
If his nomination is approved by the Salt Lake City Council, Sen. Dabakis would replace Keith Bartholomew, an associate professor of city and metropolitan planning at the University of Utah. Bartholomew had served on the board for 13 years before being removed by Biskupski last month.
Bartholomew’s removal and Dabakis’ nomination come at a time when the city is without a transportation director. Former transportation director, Robin Hutcheson, resigned nearly a year ago after taking a job in Minneapolis.
Dabakis is the Representative of State Senate District 2, which includes the downtown, Greater Avenues, Glendale, Liberty Wells, University of Utah neighborhoods and is a member of the Senate Transportation, Public Utilities, Energy, and Technology Committee.
In a statement, Biskupski cited Salt Lake City’s Transit Master Plan as needed a stronger advocate. The plan was released in draft form last year and recommends a Frequent Transit Network system, which would connect major hubs such as the University of Utah, downtown, Sugar House, and the west side via high-frequency transit corridors. The envisioned system would require both upgrades to existing UTA routes and additional transit infrastructure.
“In the end, any upgrades to Salt Lake City’s transit network is going to require partnership with UTA and additional investment,” said Mayor Biskupski in a statement. “If we are going to get people out of their cars and onto buses and trains, we need a transit agency that has the full faith of the taxpayers of this City and State.”
If approved, Dabakis would be entering the board during a challenging time. Not only is the transit agency struggling with community trust after a series of scandals, but earlier this month, UTA officials announced that without new funding sources it would be impossible for the transit agency to expand its transit network. Both Salt Lake City’s transit draft plan and the Wasatch Front Regional Council’s, Wasatch Choice 2050 and the Regional Transportation Plan call for expanding rail and bus service to meet a growing population and improve connectivity in and around Salt Lake City, and Davis, Weber and Salt Lake Counties.
“I consider this to be one of the most important assignments of my political career,” said Sen. Dabakis in a statement. “The people of Salt Lake City are in desperate need for better public transportation options and it is clear to me that a lack of trust in our transit authority is what is holding us back—I hope I can help fix that.”