Here we go again. Just when one key rail-related issue is finally resolved - placement of the intermodal hub at 600 West and 200 South - another pops up in its stead. This time the question is where to run west-east light-rail tracks approaching the University of Utah.
The obvious answer is 400 South. But that choice must be endorsed by the state, which owns and maintains the roadway.It appears the Salt Lake City Council jumped the gun a bit when making that decision May 5. The group apparently was not aware of concerns now being expressed by Utah Department of Transportation officials. That communication should have occurred long ago and all fears should have been allayed before the council acted. Not doing so creates an awkward political situation that should be speedily resolved so light-rail planning can move ahead.
The possibly premature council vote put planners on track to begin preliminary engineering studies. Now that may have to be delayed because the state's Transportation Commission must agree to placing rails and passenger stations down the middle of a busy 400 South.
That is, all things considered, the best west-east placement. The City Council and Mayor Deedee Corradini committed to that route long ago for good reasons. Those included keeping trains out of residential neighborhoods and running them where the largest concentration of people and businesses are. That is 400 South and not another east-west street running up toward the U.
State concerns should be quickly and thoroughly considered by the city and not merely dismissed out of hand. But they appear to be resolvable. The state alleges that having light rail along 400 South would reduce vehicle capacity by 15 percent and clog the roadway.
That may be true, though some dispute it. But there still would be three lanes running each direction, and light-rail should absorb at least the equivalent of the reduction, if not more.
Light-rail stations in the middle of the street could hinder left-hand turns into downtown off of 400 South, but effective planning and placement of those depots should minimize that problem.
Rail construction on 400 South, occurring concurrently with work on I-15, would be inconvenient temporarily, but it should benefit traffic flow and businesses along the route over the long haul and would be in everybody's best interests.
UDOT is justified and proper in making its concerns known now, before work on west-east light-rail proceeds further. But it should be able to work with Salt Lake City to alleviate its worries and keep this critical transportation project on schedule and on the right track.