In our opinion: Streetcar alignment

Published: Tuesday, April 30 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

Conceptual rendering of the streetcar line at 500 East.

Courtesy of the Kentlands Initiative

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Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker tells of 11 community meetings over the past 12 months and reams of public comments on file about proposed Sugar House streetcar routes.

That stands in sharp contrast to the overflow crowd that filled the Salt Lake City Council chambers recently to say they hadn't been heard.

The truth is, when it comes to any controversial community action, a substantial number of people are likely to complain either that they haven't been heard or that the city is not following their wishes. In this case, however, it appears the city has done plenty to reach out and listen to area residents, and that it is time for a final decision.

The issue concerns whether the streetcar line, which begins at the TRAX stop on 2100 South, will turn north along 1100 East, as the city prefers, or proceed east along 2100 South. Many of those at this week's hearing expressed worries about traffic congestion and the effects of construction. Most likely, they are reacting to memories the mammoth disruptions that were associated with construction of the initial TRAX lines more than a decade ago, and they probably don't understand how the streetcar concept differs.

City officials say construction will be nowhere near as disruptive as was TRAX. As for the final product, these streetcars are designed to move slowly on tracks that are part of normal traffic and with stops that are not as formal or elaborate as TRAX platforms. The line is likely to enhance businesses and dwellings along its route.

Naturally, this raises other concerns about the city's alignment decision. Governments cannot make such choices without also picking winners and losers in the private sector. Those restaurants and retail outlets along 1100 East are likely to benefit from the new rails, while those along 2100 South will not.

Becker says he hopes the system eventually will expand to serve many parts of the city, but he won't always be mayor. His successor may not share this vision, and ever-tightening city budgets may not accommodate it.

Still, the history of TRAX construction demonstrates how public opposition may melt away once the system is in place. The city is endeavoring to create a unique Sugar House community that is easily navigable on foot and by a leisurely transit system. It won't be cheap to do so, but the outcome is likely to be positive for the area.

As the city is committed to building the streetcar line, it ought to decide soon how to align it. Surely, enough public input and technical analyses have been received with which to make a decision.

If the best decision is 1100 East, city officials should proceed, knowing they can't possibly make all sides happy.

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