The opening of the new FrontRunner commuter rail line from Salt Lake City to Provo marks an important milestone in the development of the kind of public transportation network befitting a modern metropolis. And the value of an efficient rail connection across the length of the Wasatch Front will only increase as time moves forward.
The 45-mile extension, completed at a cost of nearly $1 billion, is the most significant investment thus far in the Utah Transit Authority's drive to offer commuters an alternative to the automobile.
The agency estimates that initial ridership will reach nearly 9,000 a day — a number we hope will grow over time for the sake of all of us who move along the north-south corridor on a regular basis.
When surveys attempt to assess the quality of life in urban areas, the nature of the daily commute is invariably a large component. Those who traverse the Point of the Mountain know exactly what a bad commute can taste like. That stretch of I-15 is notorious for white-knuckle steering during storms and high winds, and its propensity forbackups and bumper-to-bumper crawls during peak hours.
Any alternative would be welcomed, let alone one that offers the comfort and convenience of the new FrontRunner. And rapid population growth in the suburbs of northern Utah County guarantees the system will appeal to a large number of potential riders.
UTA, like all public agencies, is subject to occasional criticism over how it spends its money and manages its operations. But the agency's continued development of a fast-moving commuter line and a spider web of light rail spurs is a laudable approach to dealing with the demands of our transportation realities, now and into the future.
From an engineering perspective, the Provo extension came with significant challenges. To complete the project, nearly 2 million yards of cubic earth had to be moved, 20 bridges built and two canals relocated. UTA had to acquire 800 separate portions of land to plot the route.
It is remarkable that such a project was built during an economic downturn that curtailed investment in infrastructure nationwide. Those who envisioned and executed the plan deserve commendation for their foresight and diligence.
It takes a lot of things to make a livable city, but the ability to get around with relative ease is foremost in the formula. In that context, giving people the ability to hum along at 80 mph on the spine of a uniquely narrow urban corridor is certainly movement in the right direction.
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