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Airport TRAX ridership remains strong weeks after official opening

Published: Sunday, May 19 2013 10:45 a.m. MDT

Passengers arrive by TRAX train at Salt Lake City International Airport, Monday, May 13, 2013.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The number of people using the Utah Transit Authority’s newest light-rail extension has held steady since it began taking passengers last month.

Approximately 27,000 riders boarded the Green Line extension that now ends at Salt Lake City International Airport during the first week of operation, UTA reported. That number rose slightly by the third week to a little more than 27,600. On average, 27,242 passengers rode the airport TRAX extension between the EnergySolutions Arena station and the airport for the period.

UTA spokesman Remi Barron said the extension has met the agency’s expectations, comparing favorably with other light-rail line openings.

“Overall, with each of the segments, (UTA) is very pleased with the early ridership numbers,” Barron said.

The last time UTA opened new TRAX lines was August 2011, when it launched the Mid-Jordan (Red) and West Valley City (Green) lines. During the first three weeks of the those extension openings, the average ridership was 23,586 and 19,348, respectively.

Barron said that UTA took a long-term view when it was developing all of the light-rail line routes to determine how to serve the most people in the most effective manner.

The $350 million airport extension officially began taking passengers April 14 and bag-toting passengers have a positive attitude toward the line.

“It’s very convenient,” said business traveler David Priscal of Miami.

Depending upon his arrival time, Priscal said he would gladly make use of the new rail line rather than taking a taxi or renting a car. He also noted that using public transit is always a consideration for cost-conscious business travelers like him, “especially in this day and age.”

Ebony Moseley, of Orlando, Fla., said using the airport line was her first experience on public transit during business travel. She said the only inconvenience was having to take her luggage on the train rather than being able to put it the trunk of a vehicle.

Moseley said she would likely consider using the TRAX line again on her next visit to Utah, citing the cost savings and the short commute into downtown.

Matt Fenedick, a business traveler from the East Coast who visits Utah several times a year, staying mostly in downtown, also touted the convenience and low cost of the new light-rail line compared with a rental car.

“I would use public transportation anywhere if it made sense,” Fenedick said. “This makes a lot of sense.”

UTA expects ridership on the airport line to increase when the University of Utah resumes classes in the fall and business travel picks up after the summer months.

“As fall approaches, those 40,000 or 50,000 faculty and staff will start going back to work and school, as well as flying in and out of the city,” Barron said.

Under construction since January 2009, the light-rail extension was one of several rail projects UTA has had on its construction agenda over the past few years. The others include the $535 million Mid-Jordan Red Line TRAX extension and the $370 million West Valley TRAX line that is also part of the Green Line. Both lines began operation in August 2011.

Still in the works is the $212 million Draper TRAX line that will extend the Blue Line that currently ends in Sandy. The extension is due to begin operation in August.

In addition, the $850 million FrontRunner south commuter-rail line began taking passengers between downtown Salt Lake City and Provo in December 2012.

Barron said Draper city leaders and many residents are anxiously anticipating the opening of the south light-rail extension. With traffic in the south valley becoming an increasing concern, having the ability to take vehicles off the roads and move people more efficiently is something that appeals to many downtown commuters, he said.

“Draper city officials can’t wait for (the extension) to open so it can relieve some of traffic congestion in that area,” Barron said.

Email: jlee@deseretnews.com, Twitter: JasenLee1

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