Salt Lake City residents packed the City and County Building last night, largely expressing opposition to a proposed street car extension running through their neighborhood.
The Utah Transit Authority is scheduled to complete the first leg of its modern streetcar in December of this year, however questions remain as to where the line should go after the current termination point at Sugarmont Drive and McClelland Street (2200 South and 1040 East in SLC).
The current line takes advantage of undeveloped land formerly used by heavy rail companies earlier in the city’s history – however all proposed extensions would be the first time street cars would actually travel on pre-established streets. The one rail setup would run down the center of the street, similar to most downtown TRAX configurations.
Over the past few weeks and months, Salt Lake City has pushed hard for an extension that would run down 1100 East. City officials point to studies that show that the alignment would give the city the most bang for its buck as the route provides a mixed urban access to the line, serving residents, small businesses, and students at nearby Westminster College, where the line would end at 1700 South.
Opponents fell into two main camps, though often overlapping. Many residents expressed concern that the route down the narrow road would not provide adequate service, increase traffic, and harm business during and after construction due to access. Other residents advocated for a rail extension that would run along 2100 South, terminating at Highland High. This route is more popular among citizens in the area, though the city claims that this route would cost more and have fewer riders. Many residents also noted that 1100 East is already served by a bus line that could be modified to allow easy access to current or future lines.
These arguments are nothing new in the capitol city. Residents have often balked when light rail lines have been proposed in the city, agreeing that the lines should exist - but that they should not exist along certain routes. Even the obvious route of the recently opened Airport TRAX line saw controversy surrounding business access, traffic, ridership, and improvements to the overall road – in the end, only one business along North Temple closed its doors (and it is believed that the company was going to disappear regardless of construction), and current traffic complaints have largely gone unfounded (being less than a month old, ridership numbers are still pending).
Due to the nearly unprecedented outpouring of public opinion, the city council ultimately decided to table the discussion until May 7. Discussion within the Sugarhouse neighborhood and the city at large are far from over.