The federal government Friday gave the Utah Transit Authority $63.2 million to fund ongoing light-rail construction in Salt Lake County.

"We're down to the bottom of the barrel here, and this infusion of money was sorely needed," said Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini in a call with U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater.President Clinton made the announcement through spokesmen while he was on a ski vacation in Utah, noting the money was needed to ease transportation during the Olympics.

"Hosting the 2002 Winter Olympics will be a great opportunity for our nation and for Salt Lake City," Clinton said in a statement released by his traveling White House office.

The money is the second of four annual installments the federal government has agreed to in funding 80 percent of the $312 million project. It contributed $34.8 million last fiscal year and is slated to contribute $70 million in 1999 and $60 million in 2000.

Congress appropriated the money last October, but it took this long for Utah to actually get it.

"From our perspective this was done a long time ago," UTA General Manager John Inglish said. "We were just waiting for them to make the announcement."

This year's contribution is $13 million more than the $50 million to which the feds originally agreed. Inglish and UTA board chairman Jim Clark credited Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, with increasing the amount of the transfer. Bennett sits on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, the only Utahn to sit on an appropriations committee.

The increase will not augment the total amount the federal government will provide but just get it to Utah sooner - still a significant benefit.

Inglish said he estimates the north-south light-rail line will be completed by March 2000, well before the agreed-upon deadline (with the feds) of Dec. 31, 2000.

The north-south light-rail line is the only one now funded - a proposed east-west line is still under study.

In federal funding, UTA has fared better lately than the Utah Department of Transportation, which has had problems getting the money it wants for the I-15 reconstruction project.

"Unlike I-15, ours is in hand," Clark said.

The 2002 Winter Games have loomed large over Wasatch Front transportation projects, with local officials expressing anxiety that they be completed and ready for the crush of international visitors. A side benefit to the Games is they have greased the rails for federal funding of transportation projects.

"With the eyes of the world on Salt Lake City, the eyes of the world will be on the nation as well," Slater said.

The Federal Transit Authority finally agreed to the proposed light-rail federal payment schedule (the "full funding grant agreement") right after the announcement that Salt Lake City would host the Games.

"The Olympics pushed us right to the top of the list" of competing transportation projects, Clark said.

Friday, the UTA also received $1.3 million in federal funds for seven new buses and related equipment.