Intermodal hub is ready for prime time
But it still must wait for commuter and light rail
Tom Smart, Deseret Morning News
When former Mayor Deedee Corradini first proposed the eventual location for Salt Lake City's intermodal hub, many city leaders compared the site to "Outer Mongolia."
And in the late '90s the location along 600 West near 300 South did seem a world away from downtown Salt Lake City the place many city leaders felt the hub should be located.
Now, as local and federal politicians prepare to dedicate the hub on Tuesday, the site seems a bit closer. The Gateway mixed-use center and other developments have stretched the western borders of downtown nearer to the hub's 600 West address.
Originally criticized by Mayor Rocky Anderson, his administration is now enamored with the hub location. And other city, federal and transit leaders are similarly keen on the site, which remains nine long blocks from the heart of downtown Salt Lake City.
"It doesn't feel like it's so far out of downtown anymore," said Mary Guy-Sell, the city's hub consultant. "It's just really ideal."
The hub wouldn't have worked closer to downtown, Guy-Sell said, because there are too many buses that need to access it, and any downtown location would have been too cramped.
When it reaches full capacity in 2008, the hub will serve as a transportation nerve center, complete with an Amtrak station, Greyhound bus depot, Utah Transit Authority bus transfer station, light rail station, commuter rail station, taxi cab stands, amenities for bikers and possibly even a parking garage for reverse commuters those who live in Salt Lake City but commute into the suburbs to work.
"It will basically be Utah's busiest transfer point," UTA spokesman Justin Jones said.
Still, even with all those plans, the location may present problems for the hub's future viability and sustainability. There are concerns that eventually most northern commuter rail riders will never make it to the hub.
Recently the Wasatch Front Regional Council and the Utah Transit Authority agreed to construct a new commuter rail stop at North Temple, several blocks closer to downtown than the intermodal hub.
Jones said the station is on the regional council's primary funding list and could be open as early as 2012. City officials maintain such a time frame may be overly optimistic and note the city hasn't done any planning for a North Temple stop.
Moreover, that stop wouldn't have access to light rail until the proposed Salt Lake City International Airport extension is built.
But Davis County leaders maintain the hub is too far away from downtown and northern riders wouldn't want to ride all the way to the hub, only to have to backtrack their way to downtown. Some Davis leaders think the North Temple station will eventually mean most, if not all, commuter rail passengers will never make it to the hub.
"In order to ride TRAX into downtown Salt Lake you would've had to take commuter rail all the way to the intermodal hub," Rep. Stuart Adams, R-Layton said. "They've corrected that and now we've got a transfer station at North Temple."
Jones agreed that when the North Temple station opens many commuters will use it instead of traveling all the way to the hub.
"We anticipate quite a few people will do that," he said.
Lingering site issues notwithstanding, the city's long awaited hub will be dedicated Tuesday and will open for business later this month.
Greyhound Bus Line will open for business toward the end of July, moving from its long-standing location at 160 W. South Temple. That site is owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which has plans to include it in its massive downtown redevelopment effort.
For the next 2 1/2 years, Greyhound will be fairly lonely at the hub. There are plans to move Amtrak into the hub but details are still being worked out and there is no time frame. Currently, Amtrak is operating in a small, makeshift shack about a block south of the hub.
In early 2008, commuter rail through Davis County to Ogden is expected to come online and a TRAX light rail spur is also expected to connect the hub with the rest of Salt Lake County's light rail system.
When the rail service begins, UTA plans to make the hub a major bus transfer station as well, Jones said, adding that UTA doesn't plan on putting bus service there until commuter rail is a reality.
Taxis are also expected to have significant service to and from the hub.
A small retail presence is expected at the hub. The building is set up to include airport-style kiosks that could offer coffee, food, newspapers, magazines and other goods.
All this comes at a hefty price.
To date, the hub has cost $21 million in taxpayer dollars and when commuter rail service begins an additional $32 million will be needed to connect the county's light rail line to the hub. That funding has not yet been obtained.
Transit officials, however, remain optimistic about getting the money.
Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, has been key in securing federal funds for the hub and other transit projects, said D.J. Baxter, Anderson's senior adviser. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Bennett is positioned to get federal matching dollars for transit projects. He will be on hand Tuesday for the dedication."He is able to get money earmarked for projects like these," Baxter said. "He's a huge transit supporter and has been enormously helpful on this project."
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