It is envisioned as a transportation oasis where commuter trains, light-rail vehicles, Amtrak passenger trains, city buses, taxi cabs and Greyhound coaches will congregate for the convenience of the traveling public.
Right now, however, Salt Lake City's new transit center, also known as the intermodal hub, is a temporary building with one tenant -- Amtrak.And because Amtrak's California Zephyr departs for the Bay Area at 12:40 a.m. and for Chicago at 4:35 a.m., the new train station is hardly awash in daytime activity.
But one day, city officials hope, it will be.
"Hundreds of people will be using it each day initially, and then commuter rail will move that into the thousands," said Brian Hatch, an aide to Salt Lake City Mayor Deedee Corradini who specializes in transportation. "It's commuter rail that will justify a light-rail connection."
The city and the Utah Transit Authority have sanctioned a total budget of $10.5 million for a larger, permanent transit center that will be built near the temporary station in the city's Gateway area. Federal funds, to be channeled to the city through UTA, eventually will repay much of the cost.
But UTA and Greyhound are not yet ready for the permanent facility.
Greyhound has a lease at its current location through 2002, and a commuter rail network from Provo to Ogden is probably five years or more in the future.
UTA spokeswoman Coralie Alder said the temporary facility represents the first of three phases for the project.
In the second phase, a permanent building would be constructed and both Greyhound and UTA buses would serve it. In the third phase, an extension of UTA's light-rail mass transit system would be connected to the transit center, and commuter rail trains would begin serving it as well.
Alder said the timing of the second and third phases is largely dependent upon federal funding. It is possible, she said, that a temporary commuter rail network could serve the transit center during the 2002 Winter Games.
The city, however, was in a hurry to construct at least the temporary facility so that Amtrak could be relocated and myriad railroad tracks in the Gateway area could be removed. With the tracks gone, the Utah Department of Transportation was able to shorten the new I-15 freeway ramps into the city, preserving valuable property for development within the Gateway area.
"The track work is of permanent value. The only thing that's temporary is the station," Hatch said. "What we're looking at now is what kind of permanent facility is feasible with the funding we are going to get."
Hatch said there may be a way to harness private investment money to construct the permanent facility.
For now, the $100,000 temporary transit center is serving Amtrak's needs. The first train to leave the small but adequate facility was last Saturday's departure of the westbound Zephyr.
Amtrak spokeswoman Mary Jennings said the block-and-a-half move from the old Rio Grande Station to the new center at 340 S. 600 West went well this week.
Hatch rode on the first Amtrak train to arrive at the center and can attest for its efficiency.
"It worked great," he said. "The focus now is the funding side and future phases. But now the Gateway project and the I-15 project will go their separate ways after five years of being intricately bound. So it's a milestone, but we still have some work to do."
Signs have been posted to direct wayward Amtrak passengers and cab drivers who have frequented the old train station this week looking for lost ticket-holders who need rides to the new center.
"Especially in summer, ridership is very high, and we don't see that that has been affected with the change in stations," Jennings said.
The station seats about 50, which should be enough for both passengers and greeters. John McDonnell, Amtrak's Salt Lake City service manager, said the number of passengers boarding in Salt Lake City averages from 15 to 25 each for the eastbound and westbound trains.
Michael Doran, a senior manager of real estate in Greyhound's Dallas office, said the bus company definitely plans to move into the permanent intermodal hub once it is available and Greyhound's current lease expires.