A compromise has moved construction of a west-east light rail line in Salt Lake City considerably closer to reality, and that is worth celebrating.
While neither the Utah Department of Transportation nor the Utah Transit Authority is totally pleased with the 400 South section of the proposal, it can and should go forward. Planners are counting on $80 million in federal fast-track funding if they fninsh the project by 2002. UDOT, UTA and city officials are to be commended for finding ways to expedite the process.True, much needs to be done to resolve a number of challenges, but that's to be expected in a project as massive as this one. The $374 million line covers 10 miles between Salt Lake International Airport and the University of Utah.
The critical area is running light-rail tracks along 400 South. At one point the Utah Transportation Commission, which makes policy and funding decisions for UDOT, opposed running the tracks on 400 South.
Wednesday the commission by a 5-0 vote decided to permit light-rail vehicles on that thoroughfare, providing the tracks are placed on either side of 400 South - in what are now the parking lanes - between 400 West and 200 East. That's because UDOT Executive Director Tom Warne and his staff believe two light rail tracks in the center of 400 South would take up too much room, limit left-turn movements and limit UDOT's options for improving the road in the future.
Warne still would prefer not to have light rail on 400 South, but, with the proviso to place the rails to side of the street, he was willing to support the UTA. The tracks will be in the center of 400 South beyond 200 East as they make their way to the University of Utah.
UTA worries about motorists making right-hand turns into business driveways across the path of side-running TRAX trains. The area has approximately 45 driveways and UTA will do whatever it can to consolidate, eliminate or relocate them.
If construction does not begin by December 2002, UDOT reserves the right to revisit its decision to permit light rail on 400 South. Unless there are some major un-for-seen circumstances, construction needs to be finished by then.