Skeptical Salt Lake County mayors want the Utah Transit Authority to rejustify its proposal to build a $225 million light-rail commuter train.
After hearing pitches for elevated monorails and private-sector financing this week, a committee of mayors decided to step back and reconsider UTA's plan."We want to go through the numbers and have UTA justify why it came to the conclusion it did," said South Salt Lake Mayor Jim Davis, chairman of the public works committee of the Salt Lake County Council of Governments.
At first, Davis questioned the need for re-education concerning light rail after more than five years of hearings and studies on it. But he later conceded other mayors had come and gone in the process and many are now skeptical.
"I have questions about the validity of the information we are getting" from UTA, said first-year Mayor Ken Miller of West Jordan.
UTA doesn't seem to mind presenting its position again.
"These people (local mayors) have to be on board," UTA General Manager John Pingree said. UTA needs support from elected officials before putting a quarter-cent sales tax hike on next year's election ballot to pay for a light-rail system.
UTA and the Utah Department of Transportation have endorsed building a light-rail commuter train and four additional lanes on I-15 to prevent anticipated future traffic congestion. The light rail would run from Sandy to downtown Salt Lake City along an existing right of way parallel to I-15.
An exhaustive draft environmental impact statement says the freeway and mass transit expansion will cost $679 million. Both UDOT and UTA have started work on final impact statements to secure federal dollars for their respective projects.
A month ago, some council members said they preferred an elevated monorail to a ground-level light rail. UTA has rejected a monorail system, saying anything above or below ground can cost at least twice as much as a light-rail system.
But presentations from some local entrepreneurs said an elevated transit system would cost as much per mile - $10 million - as the proposed light rail.
One company said it could build a monorail for $4 million a mile and raise the money from private investors.
The firm making the claim is a group of six Utah and California businessmen that have named their group Horizon Transportation. None of the partners works in mass transportation, but they say they have traveled all over the country gathering information about the industry.
Horizon principal Paul Smith acknowledged no private owners or operators of mass transit systems exist in the country. But he predicts that will change and that the price of mass transit will go down as a result.
"The private sector can do it cheaper than the public," he said.
Utah industry has the resources to design, build and operate a monorail for less, he said. Horizon has figured its costs "down to the bolts," its members said, and has tentatively approached investors.
Pingree said he has talked with Horizon and that if the company's figures stand up and it can raise the money, UTA would gladly step aside.
"If the private sector will do it then we will pull out. We (UTA and local government) don't have to do this and make taxpayers pay for it."