SALT LAKE CITY — Since April 2010, getting to or from downtown to places like the Utah State Fairpark, Red Iguana restaurant or the airport has been a challenge.
The complete rebuild of the North Temple viaduct over the railroad tracks has sent motortists zigging and zagging on side streets through neighborhoods to get around the road and TRAX construction.
But Wednesday, most of that came to an end. In the middle of the street, on top of the viaduct, hundreds gathered to celebrate the reopening of a several block section of North Temple.
"It's exciting to have the east and west side of Salt Lake City be reconnected again," said Pete Funaro, owner of Diamond Lil's restaurant.
Though there was vehicle access to all the businesses in the construction zone, all owners felt the financial effects as customers stayed away.
“I want to recognize the businesses along North Temple who have supported this project,” said Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker. “And recognizing that the period of time under construction, it was going to take a lot of time and money from their coffers.”
Vicky Orme’s KOA on North Temple hosts about 17,000 guests a year, and she heard a lot of complaints in the past year and a half.
“It's been very difficult for them to get downtown and see the things that they want to see,” she said “Now they'll be able to come down the street, see The Gateway, Temple Square, the Capitol, all those things without the hassle they've had.”
Approximately 25,000 vehicles travel on North Temple every day. And for the first time in nearly a year and a half, no detours are required to go east or west.
The viaduct was completed ahead of schedule and under budget. Becker calls the entire rebuild of North Temple a “complete street” and a model for the rest of the nation.
“And by complete street I mean we'll have two lanes for vehicles, two bike lanes on this street, we'll have light rail on the street, we'll have good pedestrian walkways on the street. It'll accommodate all modes of transportation,” he said.
The new viaduct was necessary in order to accommodate UTA’s TRAX line from the airport. The project began in 2008 and should be operational in 2013.
All of this is part of a grand west side revitalization plan that was formulated in the mid-1990s. City leaders wanted to do something about the blighted west side business district — an area with old industrial buildings, neglected vacant lots, and railroad tracks, both functioning and abandoned, crisscrossing the area.
With federal funding and help from Union Pacific to consolidate rail lines, cleanup and open up more land to development, The Gateway was born. Not just the current retail, commercial and residential development, but also the metaphor for the entrance to the west side of the city, especially visitors coming in from Salt Lake City International Airport.
The vision, which in the early discussions may have seemed grandiose and out of reach to many, has certainly progressed nicely, city leaders say. The blend of new development in and around long established neighborhoods and businesses has been successful and created a sense of pride.