In our opinion: New TRAX line offers hope of springtime revival

Published: Thursday, April 11 2013 12:00 a.m. MDT

A test train runs on the new TRAX line on North Temple, in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 5, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) A test train runs on the new TRAX line on North Temple, in Salt Lake City on Friday, April 5, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

For the long-suffering businesses along the North Temple corridor, the opening of a new TRAX line to Salt Lake International Airport offers hope of a springtime revival. It also provides the kind of public transit link that travelers to major cities have come to take for granted.

A line connecting the airport to downtown is a much-needed amenity for convention delegates and business travelers. It is another step in the direction of completing the kind of transit network that has become a basic necessity for a thriving modern metropolis.

But it is, again, just one step. The Utah Transit Authority has ambitiously expanded its rail network, and will expand it further this summer when it extends another line to the Draper area. But for many commuters, convenient bus-to-rail connections remain spotty, and overall, travel on the UTA system can be relatively slow and not necessarily economical.

Transit planners face a harsh reality — their work is never done. The area's unique geography and growing population demand a continuous investment in new service and strategic reconfiguration of routes and schedules. It is an expensive proposition. The airport line alone will have cost $350 million.

But it is an investment that, if done wisely, pays dividends. The North Temple experience will hopefully offer proof of such a return on investment. When the backhoes and bulldozers pull out, a gleaming and transcendent boulevard will be revealed, in vivid contrast to the old North Temple.

Civic leaders are optimistic the TRAX line will catalyze a renaissance in an area that has experienced problems associated with urban blight. The refurbished thoroughfare, with modern lighting and eye-catching landscaping, offers a much better visage as the western gateway to downtown. People who previously zipped through the area en route to somewhere else may now stop, shop and dine. Property values in nearby residential areas may emerge from decades of stagnation.

As it brings a new injection of life into the area, it will demonstrate the value of a holistic approach to civic planning, and the vital role that public transportation plays in local economic development.

The pattern ought to be repeated in other areas along the Wasatch Front, but it will take time, and money. It is therefore critical that UTA and its municipal partners manage the task of expanding service in a smart, strategic and efficient manner.

Over time, residents will see the new line as more than a convenient way to get to and from the airport. The new rails will reconnect to the larger community an important and vibrant part of town that can no longer be referred to as the other side of the tracks.

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