A light-rail transit system, as well as expansion of I-15 through Salt Lake and eventually Davis and Weber counties, was endorsed Thursday by the Wasatch Front Regional Council.
Council members - representing Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Tooele and Morgan counties - agreed the passenger transit system should be built, and urged that federal, state and local funds be used.Where the local money will come from was not spelled out, but council members discussed bonding, sales taxes and - using Portland, Ore., as a model - a locally imposed payroll tax.
Council executive director Wil Jefferies estimated between $16 million and $30 million will be needed just to acquire the right of way for a light-rail system. No estimate has been made of the system's actual construction cost.
Jefferies told the WFRC members that an early plan to build tracks in the median of I-15 is not feasible. That land will be needed to add more lanes to the freeway, he said, estimating that cost at an additional $40 million to $50 million.
A more practical proposal is to buy an existing right of way or corridor, or share an existing railroad right of way, such as the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, he suggested.
Jefferies said up to $8 million in federal funding is available for a light-rail transit system and said Utah, with its current congressional delegation and advanced plans for a system, should pursue that money before another city goes after it.
And, an additional sales tax increment or the current quarter-cent sales tax that goes to the Utah Transit Authority should also be dedicated to a light-rail system, Jefferies suggested.
UTA General Manager John Pingree said his agency supports a light-rail transit system.
In addition to an efficient way to move commuters, it makes for good economic development, Pingree said. Portland invested $210 million in its rail system, he said, and has attracted five times that much in development and economic investments in the rail corridor.
Plans for the transit system show a first stage construction in Salt Lake County, bringing commuters into the downtown area on a corridor roughly paralleling I-15 from the north and south ends of the county.
A second stage extends the rail corridor into Davis County, and a third stage, stretched over 20 to 30 years, extends it into Weber County.
Jefferies said I-15 is already overcrowded, and a light-rail system would supplement, not replace, the freeway as the main commuter corridor in the counties.
The freeway needs two more lanes in each direction, the WFRC study suggests, and two or three new interchanges in Salt Lake County alone. That construction could cost between $40 million and $50 million and take eight to 10 years, Jefferies said, meaning continual traffic delays and detours for a decade as the highway is rebuilt.
That could work to the advantage of a light-rail transit system, Jefferies said, with commuters taking the train to avoid traffic tieups.