Will visitors to the 2002 Winter Games be able to take light-rail trains into Salt Lake City from the airport?
The Utah Transportation Commission may be in a position to decide.The commission agreed Friday to take another month to consider allowing a light-rail mass transit network on 400 South in Salt Lake City.
If it doesn't approve the use of 400 South, which city officials and Utah Transit Authority engineers have been banking on, it could dash any hopes of having the 10.9-mile west-east spur up and running before the 2002 Winter Games.
"Everything we're doing right now is based on 4th South," Rick Thorpe, UTA's light rail project manager, said Friday. "If we don't get 4th South then we're going to have to come back and re-do things, and it would have a severe impact.
"We'd have to take a look at it, but it may potentially eliminate the west-east for the 2002 Winter Olympics. I mean, we are on such a tight schedule right now."
The commission held its monthly meeting at Bryce Canyon on Friday and discussed the City Council's recent decision to place a west-east light-rail line down the middle of North Temple, 400 West, 400 South and 500 South between Salt Lake International Airport and the University of Utah.
The commission has jurisdiction over 400 South because it is part of the state's road system. It will become an access road for I-15 when the massive freeway reconstruction project is completed in 2001, and the commission is concerned light rail would reduce the road's traffic capacity.
Tom Warne, executive director of the Utah Department of Transportation, said UDOT engineers are working quickly to determine the exact impact light rail would have on 400 South.
The city's plans call for 400 South to continue carrying three lanes of traffic in each direction after light rail is constructed. But the lanes would be reduced from 12 feet in width to 10 feet, and all parking spaces would be removed.
"When you narrow lanes down, it stands to reason that you are probably going to get fewer cars through," Warne said after Friday's meeting. "There's concern about how light rail would impact the operational aspects of 400 South and whether or not those can be overcome by some sort of en-gineering strategy."
The construction of a west-east light-rail line is not a certainty. UTA's Board of Directors has not formally committed to building it and would need additional revenue, such as a voter-approved tax increase, in order to construct and operate it.
Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini, however, is optimistic the west-east line can be built before the 2002 Winter Games and with considerable federal assistance.
Deputy Mayor Brian Hatch attended Friday's meeting and asked the commission to make a decision soon. If the commission rejects 400 South, the city could put the light-rail spur down another west-east street that it has control over, possibly 300 South.
"We've committed to the city that we'd come to some conclusion by June sometime," Warne said. "The commission meets again June 10, and obviously there will be a fair amount of discussion before and during that meeting."
Ironically, 400 South may not be a state road for much longer. A pro-posal under consideration by a legislative interim committee could transfer 400 South to the city as part of a statewide transfer of roads to local governments.
UTA's north-south light-rail system is under construction and should be operating by March of 2000.