In most local governments, the executive and legislative branches have inherent conflicts. One, which has bogged the location of Salt Lake City's transit hub, is that the executive has the power to negotiate big deals, while the legislative branch has to ratify them.
Mayor Deedee Corradini is right when she says the city wouldn't even be discussing a west-side gateway project or an intermodal hub if not for her. In many ways, Corradini willed the entire light-rail system into place. She then orchestrated a set of tenuous agreements designed to lead to the removal of most railroad tracks from the west side, making possible a massive redevelopment project and the creation of a transit hub that would combine light rail with commuter rail, Amtrak and bus service.But the City Council is within its rights to delay ratifying all this work until it feels comfortable the mayor has done the right thing. A public process, involving the elected representatives of the people, is especially important in a matter such as this, which could determine the destiny of mass transit for decades to come.
The council, however, shouldn't dally too long. Corradini's tenuous agreements will unravel if federal funding disappears, or if one of the parties - say, Amtrak - drops out. Tuesday night, the council decided to delay the vote for a week. Opponents of the mayor's plan had better work hard to build their case.
Unfortunately, this issue boils down to a set of contradictory goals. To be successful, a transit system must be reliable, frequent and convenient. The Union Pacific Depot or a proposed site one block west of that would be much more convenient for downtown commuters than the mayor's proposal, which is to build a hub at 600 West and 200 South.
But to successfully revitalize the west side of downtown, the city would have to remove most of the railroad tracks and shorten the freeway ramps. The mayor's office says neither of those can happen if the transit hub is at the Union Pacific depot. And neither can happen without the support of Union Pacific itself, and company officials say neither Union Pacific nor the site at 500 West would work.
However, both mass transit and west-side revitalization are vital to the success of the city.
If a compromise is out there, bright minds ought to be able to find it. But they ought to work quickly.