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UTA Light Rail, Early Studies

This page was last updated on June 19, 2006.

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The Early Studies (1992 to 1997)

May 1994
(Deseret News, Monday, May 2, 1994)

LIGHT RAIL HEARING -- A supplemental draft environmental impact statement is the latest in Utah Transit Authority's plans for a $210 million light-rail system that would connect Sandy with downtown Salt Lake City. UTA has studied proposals to build the line without a tax increase, but some UTA board members remain skeptical of the plan. A public hearing will be held Wednesday, May 4, from 3:30 to 8 p.m. at Murray High School. UTA is encouraging specific comments on all of the proposals in the plan.

The supplemental statement is an outgrowth of an earlier plan approved in 1990, according to Bill Barnes, UTA spokesman. That plan, which identified a preferred alternative, came after UTA studied 12 alternatives for a transit system. Approval of this plan will result in a finalized environmental impact statement and clear the way for final design work.

The preferred alternative proposes using the Union Pacific right of way through the valley. It also includes the expansion of I-15 and expanded bus service. Barnes said about 30 percent of the design work on the route has been completed.

The latest plan identifies three possible light-rail routes in downtown. It also more specifically identifies sites of stations on the light-rail line and proposes locations for a yard and shop. It also changes the end of the line in Sandy from 10600 South to 10000 South or 9000 South.

The downtown proposals include a routing on West Temple, Main Street, State Street and a Main and State streets couplet. The plans propose between four and eight stations in the downtown area. Stations are also planned at 3300 South, 3900 South, 6400 South, 7200 South, Center Street and 7800 South in Midvale, and a station at the end of the line in Sandy.

The plan proposes four sites for a light-rail yard and shop. They include sites near 5300 South and 5900 South in Murray and west of I-15; two sites near 7200 South and 700 West in Midvale; and another about 8400 South and 150 East in Sandy.

In the plan, UTA expects slightly over 14,000 passengers per day when the first phase of the line opens in 1999. By 2010, ridership is forecast to reach 23,000 per day. UTA officials are predicting even more ridership if Congress approves funding to begin the expansion of I-15. The light-rail system is expected to carry passengers while the freeway is torn up during construction.

Yearly operation and maintenance cost of a light-rail system is estimated to reach $5.8 million, Barnes said.

June 1994
Utah received just $6 million of a requested $148 million from the federal budget for the state's transportation improvement needs, which included monies to rebuild I-15 through Salt Lake County. There was a disagreement between Utah Governor Leavitt, UTA officials, and legislative leaders on one side, and two Salt Lake County comissioners on the other side, as to the inclusion of light rail as a transportation alternative. The county commissioners did not want to include light rail, and made several public statements that having light rail inclded was the reason for the reduced amount.(Deseret News, June 12, 1994)

June 22, 1994
(Deseret News, June 23, 1994)

UTA GIVES LIGHT RAIL CONDITIONAL BLESSING -- Work on the final design and possible construction of a light-rail system linking Sandy with downtown Salt Lake will proceed as long as it doesn't mean an increase in sales taxes, the UTA board said Wednesday.

With three dissenting votes from Salt Lake County members of the panel, board members approved a resolution "reaffirming its support" for a $200 million light-rail system. After getting three new board members last October, UTA board members decided to study the light-rail option in a handful of educational sessions and then take a formal position. The vote is a follow-up to one taken in 1990, when the UTA board endorsed a plan for an I-15 expansion and light rail.

Before Wednesday's vote, Gov. Mike Leavitt weighed in on the side of the plan with a written statement delivered by a top Utah Department of Transportation official. The governor said he supported light rail as long as there were three stipulations, and he pointed out that light rail isn't a solution by itself for traffic congestion and air-quality improvement in Utah's urban heart.

Leavitt's stipulations were that no additional sales-tax revenues be used on the system, that ridership will be adequate to sustain the system and that federal funds pay a significant share of design and construction costs.

In their official resolution, board members echoed some of those sentiments along with emphasizing that bus service outside of the county would not suffer as a result of light-rail construction. The board will also require at least 50 percent of its funding from federal sources and that UTA's share of the cost to build the system wouldn't exceed 25 percent of the total bill.

Before voting, board members then each took their turn to praise or deride the light-rail plan. The three dissenters - Dan Berman, Bonnie Hernandez and Sam Taylor - questioned the viability and expense of the plan.

"Light rail is one of the most expensive public projects in the state's history with at best marginal public transit benefits," said Berman, a local attorney. He said UTA runs a high risk of not being able to finish construction and operate the light-rail system without a sales-tax increase.

Hernandez questioned the plan because she said land-use planning isn't prepared for the impact that transit stations will have local communities. The rush to build the system is being driven by government officials and not by the people, where government should derive its power, Hernandez said. She also was skeptical of the what others called the safeguards built into the resolution, noting that she believes three of the four stipulations cannot be determined until after a system is built.

Ten other members disagreed, saying they believed financial analysts' predictions about the project and that after weighing all of the arguments light rail made the most sense.

Orrin Colby, a Salt Lake County member of the board, said he had heard a variety of concerns about the future of the I-15 corridor, including comments from small-business people who are worried about how increased traffic could restrict flow of goods and services along the Wasatch Front.

Pharis Blackhurst, a board member from Utah County, said that concerns over safety and pollution swayed his vote in favor. "We have not come up with any better solution," he said.

James E. Clark, a board member from Bountiful, said he believes starting the system in Salt Lake County would could eventually bring an extension to Davis County. Even if the board did nothing, changes would be forced upon the area by federal environmental regulators.

October 1994
(Pacific RailNews, October 1994)

LRT Prospects Improve -- Utah Transit Authority board members have come up with a complicated financing plan to build a 15-mile light rails line from Salt Lake City to Sandy along the Interstate 15 corridor. If everything works out, construction could begin as early as 1996.

The plan depends on the federal government providing three-quarters of the needed $200 million, some as rail money but the rest from traffic mitigation funds from a billion dollar highway reconstruction project. This is similar to the way Florida financed Miami's ri-Rail commuter line. The local share of the money is assured, since UTA has been socking funds aside for a decade.

In a 1992 vote, which many thought killed the project, electors ruled out any tax increase for LRT. But since planners believe the LRT could carry most of the commuters displaced during the total rebuilding of I-15, it's felt that the new financing plan might do the trick.

Preliminary engineering has been completed and the final EIR (environmental impact report) is due this year. The line would utilize a former Union Pacific right-of-way now owned by UTA.

February 1995
(Deseret News, February 17, 1995)

OFFICIALS HOPING TO DERAIL EFFORT TO SIDETRACK LIGHT RAIL -- Federal and local support for changes to I-15 may be derailed by a bill requiring voter approval of light rail before any tax money is spent to develop or operate the system.

The bill sponsored by Sen. Stephen Rees, R-Bennion, would require voters to approve light rail before UTA and the Utah Department of Transportation spend tax money to "promote, encourage, result in or constitute the development or operation of a light-rail system." That would include everything from buying land to studying the issue, according to the bill.

The Salt Lake City Council says that if the bill passes, it will hold a special session to revoke support for an off-ramp at 400 South. That support was contingent on light rail being included as part of the renovation of I-15.

Without light rail, it's likely UDOT would need to build a second off-ramp into the city - at either 200 South or North Temple. Both options are unacceptable to the city.

"We are not backing away from our resolution," said Stuart Reid, council chairman. "The city benefits in every way from having light rail. Without light rail, it will be very costly and will negatively affect I-15 improvements."

Reid said Gov. Mike Leavitt "needs to come back home and support his administration's position on this issue. UDOT is fully behind light rail." Leavitt has spent much of the session in Washington working on states' rights issues.

Mayor Deedee Corradini said the bill would renege on long-standing commitment that light rail be an integral part of rebuilding I-15. Wasatch Front mayors remain firmly committed to light rail, as demonstrated by unanimous vote by the Council of Governments last year.

"We had months of hearings and discussions and nobody came up any thing better than the plan we've had all along," Corradini said. "Until we come up with a better plan, we should stick to what we've got. We can't just build more and more roads."

Among those lobbying against the bill on Wednesday was Craig Zwick, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation, who said commuters sooner or later will wish they had the proposed 15-mile train from Sandy to downtown Salt Lake.

But there are other, more immediate reasons to oppose any roadblocks to such a project, said Zwick. First and perhaps foremost is that federal funding appears almost imminent, according to Zwick. He said Sen. Orrin Hatch's office is tracking a light-rail appropriation that stands a good chance of congressional approval. A transportation-funding package before Congress includes $131 million for the 15-mile project and could be augmented by another $60 million federal grant. The state would receive the money in increments.

The Utah Transit Authority - which says it has the money to meet the obligation - would be required to come up with the remaining one-fourth of the approximately $240 million project.

But Zwick said it's the long term that lawmakers ought to ponder. "It's not a big deal air-quality-wise," said Zwick, who said light rail will do little to ease the valley's smog woes. "But it's a big deal congestion-wise." "I think people opposed to any expanded transit at all are missing truly what it will take to allow mobility to improve in the valley," Zwick said.

Voters in 1990 defeated by a 56-to-43-percent margin a quarter-cent sales-tax increase that would've paid for the Sandy-to-Salt Lake City project. Proponents hoped the pilot effort would be a model for similar mass-transit lines along the Wasatch Front. The result was disheartening to light-rail boosters, but they have persistently pointed out that the vote was on a tax hike, not light rail itself.

May 1995
(Deseret News, May 25, 1995, page B1)

LIGHT RAIL GETS GREEN LIGHT FROM UTA -- The Utah Transit Authority is proceeding with plans to build a 16-mile commuter rail line from suburban Sandy into downtown Salt Lake City despite claims the $294 million project might bankrupt the agency.

Light rail may not be the only answer, but it is an answer, said Karen Mayne, a UTA board member from West Valley City who noted her traffic-hampered part of Salt Lake County in 1992 voted 2-1 against a sales tax to pay for the project. Mayne, nonetheless, voted yes Wednesday in joining a UTA board majority that opted to let light rail proceed.

The board's endorsement - in the form of a proposed contract with the federal government - means UTA could break ground by fall 1996. It marks the latest step in the agency's steady press to build the train line, which would be the first of its kind in Utah and complement UTA's fleet of 500 buses.

Members before Wednesday's 12-2 decision hotly debated the prudence of the commitment, however, because it would require UTA to pay 20 percent of project costs, or about $59 million, which is about $9 million more than the agency's annual operating budget.

"I think it's a breach of our public trust to gamble on this kind of financial risk," said Dan Berman, one of just two dissenting directors. Berman, a Salt Lake attorney, said the contract UTA is arranging with the federal government puts the onus on the transit authority to build light rail without getting any firm assurance Congress will cover its end of the bargain. "It's the worst kind of public policy. . . . We're exceeding the assets of the entire entity," said Berman, who cautioned that today's Washington is not the pork-barrel beast of yesteryear. "In case somebody hasn't noticed, things are not the same. There is change in this country," he said.

"We are in a state of revolution almost," added Sam Taylor, the other UTA director who voted no, explaining his opposition was rooted partly out of concern for the ever-expanding federal deficit. "It is not free," said Taylor. "We are paying for it right here in Utah."

The remaining dozen members stood fast, however, insisting their support for light rail comes after lengthy consideration and during a time in which air-pollution in urban Utah is a growing concern and traffic along I-15, the state's most important transportation corridor, creeps toward gridlock.

"It's not an irresponsible decision. . . . I believe it's the best thing," said Greg W. Haws, a director from Weber County who hailed light rail as "a new era of public transport."

"Twenty years from now I don't want my grandchildren saying to me, `Gee, Gramps, the freeways are all screwed up,' " said Jim Clark, a director from Davis County, another fast-growing area that has serious rush-hour trouble along I-15. Clark conceded that the railroad might not help his constituency, but he alluded to UTA light-rail promotions that bill the Sandy-Salt Lake line as the seed of regional commuter-train service up and down the Wasatch Front. "I look forward to the time when we have light rail from Logan to Springville," Clark said.

"We cannot build enough freeways," added Richard Jackson, another board member. "Somebody has to demonstrate some leadership." Acknowledging an argument sounded by opponents in recent weeks, Jackson said the proposed agreement with Washington does not mean UTA will be forced to build the project at its own expense should Congress fail to fund most of the costs. "I doubt they're going to make us build it, because it's not for them, it's for us."

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

The funding

Where UTA plans to get the $294 million to build a mass-transit light-rail line from Sandy to downtown Salt Lake City
- $29 million, local bond issue
- $21 million, UTA savings
- $1.65 million, surplus UTA land sales
- $7.5 million, annual UTA revenue over the course of five years
- $235 million, federal grants

August 1995
(Deseret News, August 2, 1995, page A1)

LIGHT-RAIL PLAN GETS A HEAVY, FEDERAL BOOST -- U.S. Transportation Secretary Federico Pena announced a federal agreement to pay a whopping $241 million to help build a 15-mile light-rail system from Sandy to downtown Salt Lake City as part of the federal government's commitment to help ensure a smooth Olympics. Congress still must appropriate money for the project. "The Winter Olympics in Salt Lake are not just Salt Lake's Olympics. They are the nation's Olympics," Pena said while surrounded by Utah officials at a press conference. The action may have also saved the light-rail project - which just last week had been declared dead by some in Congress unless local officials found a way to provide a much larger local share than the 80-20 federal-local split they had sought. But the Clinton administration approved exactly that 80-20 split - with the federal government agreeing to pay $241 million through completion in 2000, and UTA paying $71 million.

The money still must be appropriated by Congress each year - but that is made much more likely, and near-automatic, with the agreement to include the money in the annual transportation budget submitted by the administration. "That helps it leap-frog other projects," said Federal Transit Administrator Gordon Linton.

"What this means is we have passed the stringent review of the federal Department of Transportation," said UTA spokesman Bill Barnes, adding that the endorsement placed Utah's light-rail project among the top dozen or so vying for congressional favor.

Depending on whether Congress funds at least some portion of it in the coming fiscal year, work on the commuter rail system could begin as early as next fall.

The announcement hardly quelled persistent, if spotty, criticism of the project, however. Daniel L. Berman, a UTA board member who has been among a small minority on the board to oppose the project, repeated assertions that light rail is a waste. "It'll have a very minimal impact on mass transit needs and cost a great deal of money," said Berman.

County Commissioner Brent Overson, perhaps the noisiest critic of the proposal, downplayed Pena's announcement, noting the congressional obstacles ahead. Not every opponent had something to say. Rep. Enid Waldholtz, R-Utah, who favors spending money for more roads instead, and who as recently as last week said the federal government would never endorse light rail, was nowhere to be found Wednesday morning.

UTA - which for some time has anticipated the federal government would pick up most of the project costs - in 1993 bought up most of the right of way required for the line, a freight-rail track that runs from the Point of the Mountain into downtown Salt Lake City.

And the agency, whose sole current purpose is providing bus service to urban Utah, this summer began soliciting bids for the project's design, a phase that already has been funded by Washington and is expected to be finished within a year to 18 months.

The rail line would be powered by overhead electrical wires, serving 12 stops in suburban Salt Lake and five in the downtown area. Its cars would be similar to those used by Denver's light-rail system, holding up to 150 people in what Barnes said would be a "reasonable standing load," though they would be rated for up to 200 passengers.

October 1995
(Deseret News, October 19, 1995, page B2):

LIGHT-RAIL PLAN STILL ON TRACK -- Like Mark Twain, the report of the demise of Salt Lake County's light-rail system in Congress was premature. House and Senate conferees decided Thursday to provide $9.8 million to help keep the project on track next year - but at a lower level than sought. That comes even though a key House chairman had tried to kill it, saying local governments were not paying a big enough share of the costs - and Rep. Enid Waldholtz, R-Utah, warned local officials the project might be dead unless that changed.

Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, a member of the House-Senate conference committee working out compromises on transportation funding, was able to save the $9.8 million for next year. That was less than the $14.5 million he earlier was able to push through the Senate. But the House had voted not to give any money at all for light rail (although it would have given $5 million in mass-transit funds supposedly for that project to help add lanes on I-15 for exclusive use of cars carrying multiple passengers).

Utah Transit Authority spokesman Bill Barnes said the $9.8 million represents the first construction money devoted to the project and said an equal or greater amount will be needed the following year to keep construction moving forward. Construction ultimately is going to be a multiyear appropriation. We're not anticipating getting all the rest of the money next year," Barnes said. He said actual construction could begin by the end of next year. All funds needed for design have been acquired, and the final design process is under way, he said.

The light-rail funding was helped in Congress by Salt Lake City's successful bid for the 2002 Olympics - and the city's argument that a system from Sandy to Salt Lake City is essential to handle traffic for the Games. That helped win support from Transportation Secretary Federico Pena, who announced that the Clinton administration will put $241 million in the budget over the next few years to pay 80 percent of the cost of the system. Bennett said that support, in turn, helped him win Senate financing this year.

Despite support by the administration and claims that light rail is needed for the Olympics, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bud Shuster, R-Pa., had said he would still try to block funding. Waldholtz has said many new transportation projects nationally have volunteered to pay a much greater share of costs than the 20 percent offered by UTA - and she felt Shuster and other key House members would never back light rail unless Utah also came up with more money.

December 1995
(Deseret News, December 24, 1995, page A1):

WORKING ON THE RAILROAD - ALREADY -- There's no money yet to build it, but 25 engineers are working full bore anyway designing the commuter rail line the Utah Transit Authority wants to run between Sandy and downtown Salt Lake City.

Quietly commandeering a two-level office building at 2100 South and 300 East in South Salt Lake, the design team - funded by federal dollars - went to work this fall on the project.UTA, which generally accompanies such expansions with much aplomb, made no public announcement of this one. "It just never occurred to us to do that," said agency spokesman Bill Barnes, insisting it was standard operating procedure unworthy of much fuss.

He might've added that keeping light rail low key is perhaps the politically prudent thing to do. While polls have consistently showed strong support for the project, it remains a favorite target of anti-government curmudgeons and critics - most particularly those from the west side of the county - who say the line will do little for residents who live any distance from it.

But it has its fans, not the least enthusiastic of which are the people working on it now. "It's a great project," said Paul Bay, vice president of BRW Inc., one of three engineering firms designing UTA's light rail. A veteran of similar mass-transit efforts in numerous cities around the country, Bay said the Salt Lake project has more potential than many he's seen.

"There are ones that are great and there are ones that are marginal. This one is not marginal," said Bay. Perhaps its most substantial strength is that for most of its 15 miles it would follow an already-built railroad bed that once served a freight line. That right-of-way is also the project's biggest operational plus, he said. "People will be able to move up and down that corridor very quickly," he said.

John Taylor, UTA's manager for facility design and construction, hinted that if the history of similar lines in other locales is any indication, Salt Lake's light rail - if federal funding for it comes through in the next couple of years - will be more popular than its most ardent supporters have predicted. A similar system he helped design in Portland was supposed to attract 14,000 riders a day when it opened in 1986. "They got about 18,000," said Taylor, adding that the number only increased over time and that another line he worked on, in Los Angeles, was similarly swamped when it began operating in 1990.

And he said the opposition that has surfaced locally - small though it may be - has not been unlike the sometimes vitriolic resistance that has risen up elsewhere against light-rail systems. "This is fairly typical," he said. Still, if boosters maintain the Sandy-Salt Lake line is a transportation planner's dream, not everybody is entirely sold.

February 1996
(from Pacific RailNews, February 1996, page 68)

Car Deal In Works for New LRT Line -- Having pulled a rabbit from a hat in securing federal funds to build its 15-mile light rail line, Utah Transit Authority may have scored another coup by snapping up an unexcercized option for 20 to 23 Siemens SD-100 cars originally offered to San Diego. The cars will cost $1,854,900 each - presumably less than most 1996 car offerings, if new bidding were required.

UTA proposes to buy the cars based on the low price and early availability. the first cars are to arrive in Utah within 20 months and will be built to the off-the-shelf design specifiied by San Diego, but with better insulation to suit Utah's more extreme climate.

Salt Lake's LRT will link downtown with the suburb of Sandy. Its opening is scheduled for December 2000 in time for the 2002 Winter Olympic games, set for nearby ski slopes.

July 1996
Utah's Republican Party Central Committee asked the state's legislature to block the funding for UTA's proposed light rail system in Salt Lake County. Committee were angered that the project was not put to a popular vote. In other activity, UTA had selected Midvale as its choice for a maintenance facility, but the city of Midvale did not want such a facility within its boundaries. The city suggested an old smelter slag site that was two miles west of the proposed light rail route, but the site would require extensive environmental studies to be used.(Pacific RailNews, July 1996, page 19)

September 1996
(Deseret News, September 19, 1996, page B2):

LIGHT-RAIL CARS ORDERED -- Saying Salt Lake County's much-discussed light-rail system is finally under way, a UTA official answered lawmakers' questions at a legislative interim committee meeting Wednesday.

Bill Barnes of the Utah Transit Authority told the Transportation and Public Safety committee that UTA has already ordered light-rail cars from a German company, owns the right of way for the rail lines as well as most of the property for park-and-ride facilities and will begin construction on these park-and-ride lots late this year.Barnes also passed out written responses to 22 questions lawmakers had put before the department earlier. Here are some of the questions and UTA's responses.

What is the status of the project's funding?

The federal government has committed to pay 80 percent of the cost to build the light-rail system between Sandy and downtown Salt Lake City. Congress has already allotted UTA $36 million for the planning and construction of light rail in 1996. This summer Congress appropriated $35 million for 1997.

If federal funding is cut, who will be responsible to make up the difference?

The Utah Transit Authority is solely responsible for local funding of this project. UTA has no authority to obligate any other agency. (UTA is funded by taxpayers.) There's a high confidence in federal funding, because the federal government has always met its obligations on full-funding grant agreements.

Has the decision to build light rail been made? If so, when?

The decision to proceed with construction was made by the UTA board in its regular July meeting.

What's the current construction schedule?

Construction of the rail system should begin next spring. The full-funding grant agreement states a completion date of December 2000. However, UTA expects completion before the end of 1999.

What is the cost of the light-rail cars already ordered? What are the cancellation penalties if UTA doesn't take delivery?

UTA's cost per car is $1.86 million, compared with the current market price of $2.3 million. Penalties for not accepting delivery will range from 50 percent to 100 percent of actual cost. However, if UTA could not take delivery, it may be able to sell the purchased cars for more than the purchase price. The cars are basically identical to those used in San Diego, Sacramento and Denver and are compatible with those in St. Louis, Pittsburg, Calgary and Edmonton.

How will the major east-west bus expansion in conjunction with the light-rail system be paid?

Placement of light rail in the I-15 corridor will allow the reallocation of buses from this corridor to neighborhoods.

UTA hoped to get another $40 million in construction funding from the 1997 federal budget that would allow it to begin construction of the proposed 15.2 mile light rail line. This would be in addition to $36 million from the previous 1996 federal budget. Construction on the line's 23 six-axle cars from Siemens was to begin in late 1997 if the money, or part of the money, is released by the federal government. The decision on where to locate the maintenance facility seemed to have it located at 8400 South State Street in Sandy, with the State Street frontage being used for retail development. The proposed line between the University of Utah and Salt Lake International Airport, was to be located along either Third South or Fourth South on the east end, and along the old Salt Lake & Garfield (Saltair) right-of-way on the west end.(Pacific RailNews, September 1996, page 60)

November 19, 1996
(Deseret News, November 19, 1996):

U.S. TO HAND $30 MILLION TO UTA FOR LIGHT RAIL -- The federal government was expected Tuesday(November 19, 1996)to deliver a $30 million check to the Utah Transit Authority so it can break ground this spring on construction of a 15 1/2-mile light rail line from Salt Lake City to Sandy.

Gordon Linton, administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, was to give the money to UTA Board President Jim Clark in a Tuesday afternoon ceremony at the Salt Lake City-County Building.The $30 million, which will fund the first phase of construction, is part of the federal government's pledge to pay for 80 percent of the light rail project. The rest is to come from existing UTA funding and reserves.

The federal government appropriated a total of $35 million for the light rail project for the 1997 fiscal year. UTA spokesman Bill Barnes said UTA will request the remaining $5 million when it is ready to spend the money. With the $30 million check, the federal government will have given UTA $76 million of the $241 million it has promised for the project.

"That's almost a third (of the anticipated amount), which is pretty good considering we haven't broken ground," Barnes said.

The light rail line, scheduled for completion by the year 2000, will run from 10000 South in Sandy to the Delta Center in downtown Salt Lake City.

November 19, 1996
By a 6 to 1 vote, the Salt Lake City Council ended a three-year controversy and restated its decision to locate the UTA light rail line along Main Street as a double tracked line. Many business owners along the route (61 percent of those polled) wanted a single track loop along West Temple and State Street, rather than a double track line along Main Street. UTA officials stated that to change the route would cost $5.5 million, and would delay the opening by two years, well beyond the 2002 Winter Olympics, which was deemed to be unacceptable. The council authorized the city's mayor to sign a series of contracts with UTA that would commit the city and UTA to the Main Street route. The Federal Transit Administration had delivered $30 million to UTA for light rail construction, as a second installment of a promised $241 million.(Deseret News, November 20, 1996, page B1; Deseret News, November 28, 1996, page A1; Pacific RailNews, February 1997, page 31):

City Councilman Tom Godfrey had harsh words for those opposed to the Main Street alignment. "I have to say there are some big-money obstructionists in this town that have shelled out a lot of money and played a lot of games. We need to get light rail moving, and we can't play games with people," he said.

"You have had the opportunity to debate this, and debate this and debate this for three years and three years is long enough," said Councilwoman Deeda Seed.

Councilman Bryce Jolley agreed that it was time for the City Council to move forward with its original plan. The council voted in 1993 to lay a double set of tracks down Main Street. It reaffirmed that position last year.

December 2, 1996
(Deseret News, December 11, 1996, page B1):

UTA OKS $3.6 MILLION FOR RAILS FOR LIGHT RAIL - Associated Press -- The Utah Transit Authority board has committed $3.6 million to purchase steel rails for light rail. The board voted 10-2 Dec. 4 to buy the rail from A&K Railroad Materials of Salt Lake City, pledging to begin construction in March on the 15-1/2-mile commuter system from 10000 South in Sandy to downtown Salt Lake City. The rail-purchase agreement is the second major contract the UTA board has approved this year. The UTA agreed in July to pay $47 million for 23 self-propelled light-rail cars manufactured by Siemens Duewag Corp., based in Sacramento, California. Rails are scheduled to be delivered next May. The first cars will be shipped to Salt Lake City in March 1998 with the system operational by early 2000.

December 18, 1996
(Deseret News, December 19, 1996, page B1):

SANDY'S OPPOSITION TO SHOP PUTS PLANS FOR RAIL LINE ON SIDING -- What appeared to be a done deal last week suddenly evaporated Wednesday and left the Utah Transit Authority scrambling to find an alternate site on which to build a light rail maintenance facility.

Unexpected opposition from Sandy led the UTA Board of Directors to withhold its approval of placing a rail yard and shop east of State Street at 8400 South. The absence of support means the UTA design team will miss the first deadline on its fast-track construction schedule to complete a 15 1/2-mile commuter line from Sandy to Salt Lake City by early 2000.The impasse also gave those who oppose the Main Street routing of light rail in downtown Salt Lake City at least another month to fight that plan. They also hope the arrival of a new board member in January may give them the support they need to actually change those plans.

A motion to approve agreements with Salt Lake City that would finalize the Main Street alignment failed on a 7-7 vote. Board member Bob Black said he voted against the agreements not because he dislikes the Main Street route but because of Sandy and Midvale opposition to the maintenance facility site. He said he wants that problem resolved and assurance that UTA has a good relationship with all "the partners along the rail line," before he votes in favor of the Salt Lake agreements.

Because of the dispute over the maintenance facility, the board postponed action on agreements with South Salt Lake. The events had the board's light-rail supporters accusing opponents of trying to kill the project through continual delay.

Midvale and Sandy leaders haven't agreed on everything over the years, but it was a hastily formed alliance between the two cities that effectively thwarted a years-old UTA plan in a matter of hours. Midvale leaders appeared to be throwing in the towel last Wednesday when they met with UTA officials and said, despite strong opposition to the proposed site, they would not try to stop UTA from putting it there. The site, along the southern border of Midvale and the northern edge of Sandy, includes some property within each city, but the bulk is in unincorporated Salt Lake County.

Midvale and Sandy leaders swayed the board away from the State Street site in favor of another undisclosed location. Mike Allegra, UTA's director of engineering, told the board his staff could offer the new site for board approval within a month. Siler said the new site is within Midvale's boundaries and said [Midvale Mayor Donald] Poulsen considers it more acceptable than the State Street location.

January 7, 1997
(Deseret News, January 8, 1997, page B1):

UTA LOOKS TO DRAPER FOR RAIL FACILITY -- A desperate Utah Transit Authority on Tuesday went all the way to Draper - miles away from the terminus of its planned light-rail commuter line - in search of a city willing to accept a maintenance facility and rail yard for the 15-1/2-mile system.

With a Jan. 29 deadline looming and the fate of light rail in Salt Lake County perhaps riding on its ability to locate a site for a maintenance shop, UTA officials asked the Draper City Council if the transit authority could build such a facility on 300 East at the south end of Draper - about five miles from the last planned stop on the line at 10000 South in Sandy.The Midvale City Council, meanwhile, on Tuesday night gave its official support to another site on which UTA has considered building the maintenance facility - 15 acres at 7000 South and 600 West along the Murray border, west of I-15, the former location of Collett's Furniture.

UTA's chief engineer, Mike Allegra, called the city's action "good news." He said his staff would talk to the Utah Department of Transportation as soon as possible to discuss UDOT's plans to use part of the 7000 South site to straighten out I-15 as part of the planned highway reconstruction to begin in April.

"Their new alignment cuts into some of the northern portion of this property, and that's really all we know," Allegra said.

UTA would like to have about 20 acres for a maintenance facility but could manage with as little as 10 acres, according to UTA General Manager John Pingree. If UDOT needs more than five acres of the 7000 South property, then it is unlikely the Midvale site would work.

Allegra said he hoped to determine Wednesday whether UDOT's plans would rule out the 7000 South site or, assuming the current plans do call for much of that site to be taken, whether the I-15 construction plans could be altered to accommodate a light-rail facility there. Federal funding for the I-15 widening has been linked to the state's ability to construct a light-rail line parallel to the route.

Crosby Mecham, a UTA engineer, said UTA is considering seven other sites, including two in Midvale, two in Murray, two in Salt Lake City and one in unincorporated Salt Lake County. He could not say whether the Draper site had moved near the top of the list. "We are looking for a city which can accept us," Mecham said.

UTA has combed the Salt Lake Valley for years looking for a site. Everywhere it has gone, residents and community leaders have opposed hosting a facility where rail cars would presumably tie up traffic on nearby streets and create both noise and light pollution. The facility would be used to park and maintain 23 rail cars when they are not in operation.

January 29, 1997
(Deseret News, January 30, 1997, page A1):

UTA BOARD VOTES 11-2 TO RUN LIGHT RAIL DOWN MAIN STREET -- As far as the Utah Transit Authority board is concerned, the issue is settled. The governing body of the agency charged with building a Salt Lake County light-rail system ended on Wednesday its prolonged debate over the route trains will take through downtown Salt Lake City.The board voted - by an unexpectedly lopsided margin of 11-2 - to approve four agreements with Salt Lake City, including one specifying that both northbound and southbound light-rail tracks will be placed down the center of Main Street between 700 South and South Temple.

Opponents of that alignment, who failed earlier Wednesday to get a temporary restraining order to stop the board vote, promise to take their fight to the state Supreme Court. But as far as UTA board members are concerned, Wednesday's decision finalized Main Street as the one and only light-rail route through the heart of the city.

"When they lost the TRO (temporary restraining order) today . . . I think some of these people (board members) just wanted to go along," said Dan Berman, the most vocal opponent of the Main Street alignment and light rail in general on the UTA board. "Absent an (ballot) initiative or court order, I think this is over." Berman voted against approval along with Glenn Donnelson.

April 1997
Construction began on UTA's Salt Lake City light rail line.

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