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Salt Lake City receives $26 million for Sugar House streetcar project

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 20 2010 4:08 p.m. MDT

Streetcars, a part of Sugar House's history, will return to the Salt Lake neighborhood.

Salt Lake City

SALT LAKE CITY — In October 2007, Ralph Becker stood on the corner of McClelland Street and Sugarmont Drive and announced his intentions to make a light-rail or trolley route to Sugar House a high priority under his administration.

Becker, then a candidate for mayor, insisted that by working together with the Utah Transit Authority and South Salt Lake, the line could move forward much sooner than what then was a 20- to 25-year timetable.

A few days shy of three years later, Mayor Becker returned to that same corner Wednesday to celebrate a $26 million federal grant that will allow the Sugar House streetcar project to move forward immediately and possibly be operational within three years.

"I am pleased to announce that by securing the TIGER II grant, we have identified a crucial piece of federal funding to take the Sugar House streetcar from vision to reality," he said.

The Sugar House streetcar line was one of 42 capital construction projects awarded federal funding Wednesday through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program. The second round of the federal stimulus funding, known as TIGER II grants, will put nearly $600 million toward major infrastructure projects in 40 states, ranging from highways and bridges to transit, rail and ports.

City leaders say the $26 million awarded to the Sugar House project will jump-start construction of the two-mile streetcar line from the 2100 South TRAX station to the old Granite Furniture building.

Only three projects received more TIGER II funding than the Sugar House streetcar line. The largest grant, nearly $47.7 million, went to a streetcar project in Atlanta.

"These are innovative, 21st century projects that will change the U.S. transportation landscape by strengthening the economy and creating jobs, reducing gridlock and providing safe, affordable and environmentally sustainable transportation choices," U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a news release. "Many of these projects could not have been funded without this program.

Ralph Jackson, UTA's deputy chief of major program development, said project officials had applied for a $31 million grant, though he noted that the $26 million will be sufficient for the project to get under way immediately.

The full cost of the streetcar project has been estimated at $46 million, a figure that doesn't include the right of way for the line acquired years ago by UTA. But Salt Lake City transportation officials have been working with UTA to find ways to trim that price tag, Becker said.

One example of that is the possibility that cars already being acquired for UTA's TRAX system could be converted for streetcar use. That would also eliminate the need for separate maintenance facilities and operations, he said.

"That saves an enormous amount of money in terms of development of the system," Becker said.

Salt Lake City Councilman S?ren Simonsen described plans for a streetcar in Sugar House as "going back to the future," noting that the community was built on trolley lines that operated in the early part of the 20th century.

"We're bringing back technologies," Simonsen said, "but this will be a very modern trolley system. It will have a lot of things that historic trolleys didn't have in terms of accessibility for people with disabilities and our ability to integrate and tie in with other modes of transportation, pedestrians and bicyclists."

The project also will be unique in that the streetcar won't actually run on a street, he noted. Project plans call for the streetcar or trolley to use the abandoned railroad corridor between 2100 South and I-80.

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