Rails May Return to Salt Lake City Streets

UTA Streetcar - Concept art from UTA
UTA Streetcar – Concept art from UTA

In keeping with Salt Lake’s continuing expansion into the modern mindset that everything old is new again, last Thursday the Downtown City Creek Harmon’s played host to the latest findings on a study looking at a proposed downtown streetcar line (or lines). The event, aside from simply presenting information, also served as an opportunity for both citizens and businesses to provide feedback on the potential problems and opportunities such a project would provide for the capital city.

In December of 2010, soon after being awarded a $26 million dollar federal grant for the construction of a Sugar House street car line, Salt Lake City received a federal grant of $470,000, which was used to help fund a study the Redevelopment Agency had commissioned back in 2009. The study would go on to look at the feasibility and practicality of a downtown street car that would further connect the inner city to both emerging areas such as the Granary District, and established areas such as the University of Utah.

The study examined the feasibility of street car lines from South Temple to 900 South and 600 West to 500 East. As the study progressed, researchers narrowed their focus on an “L” shaped corridor stretching from the University of Utah down to the Gateway Shopping Center along either 100 or 200 South. From there, the study proposes four potential routes along 400 or 500 West, before ultimately ending in the new Granary District at either 800 or 900 South and 400 or 500 West.

The proposed street car has wide support from the Salt Lake Redevelopment Agency, Envision Utah, and several local businesses and non-profit organizations. Many members of the public who attended the open house also expressed support and enthusiasm—seeing the new streetcar as a way to open up many of the Salt Lake City’s central neighborhoods. Many attendees were also excited at the possibility of tying the more residential east side areas to the more urban and commercial areas to the south and west.

One concern some business owners did have was the disruption that construction would have on existing businesses, recalling the disruptive nature of the original UTA TRAX line when that project was being constructed along Main Street prior to its 1999 opening. But as the system has become more widely accepted since its launch 15 years ago, more communities have clamored for light rail lines and TRAX has added nearly 30 miles of additional tracks, extending to Utah County, Draper, South Jordan, West Valley, and the Airport.

Although it is far too early to speculate on how successful it will be, the Sugar House “S Line,” has not seen the same type of success in its first four months of operation as had been initially expected. UTA initially estimated that daily ridership would hover around 3,000 passengers a day. A Salt Lake Tribune government records request shows that current ridership is a fraction of that with a daily ridership of 781 riders as of December.

Citizens are encouraged to provide their own input on a Downtown street car line by visiting the city’s Open City Hall website on the topic.

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