Two Utah cities are being portrayed as national leaders in using public transit to promote development.
The Gateway project in Salt Lake City and The Chimneys in Murray were showcased here Tuesday in separate seminars designed to show transit officials from 37 states how they can work with cities to build major commercial and residential complexes along transit corridors.The two major developments, planned along the Utah Transit Authority's light-rail mass-transit system, are excellent examples of how a city, a transit agency and private developers can cooperate to transform blighted areas, participants in the annual Rail-Volution transit development conference were told.
Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini said light rail and a proposed commuter rail system between Ogden and Provo are integral parts of the 650-acre Gateway project. Commuter rail will stop in the heart of the Gateway area, and stations for both the north-south and west-east light-rail lines will be nearby. Buses, bikes and good old-fashioned shoes, too, will move people to and from the Gateway, the mayor said.
"It's the most massive project we've ever undertaken," Corradini told an audience of about 100. "I think everybody's caught the vision and we're well on our way."
The 141-acre Chimneys development is to include a hospital, movie theaters, restaurants and retail shopping. Hal Johnson, a UTA planner, gave the city of Murray much of the credit for making the project possible.
"We feel like this was a real success story . . . We partnered with the city and we felt like we came out a winner," Johnson said of the development planned around the future Transit Express (TRAX) passenger station just north of 5300 South. "It's now a destination station along our system."
Corradini told how it took four years of negotiations with Union Pacific Railroad to reach agreement on removing 22 miles of track, including about 60 grade crossings, from the Gateway area to make redevelopment possible.
The proposed mixed-use area of homes, businesses, cultural facilities, offices, hotels, retail shops and perhaps even a new zoo will do more than just turn a desolate, industrial area into a thriving community, the mayor said.
"We really believe we are bringing east and west Salt Lake City together now and joining us as one city," she said.
Johnson detailed how UTA and the city worked with the Environmental Protection Agency to free the former smelter site from federal restrictions and transform it into a potential revenue-generator for Murray. Some issues were resolved when the city agreed to use low-level contaminated materials in building the extension of Main Street through the development site, and when UTA agreed to build a park-and-ride lot on top of other contaminated ground, Johnson said.
"Because you have contaminated property on your system doesn't mean you should overlook it," he said.
UTA is in the process of trading 4.5 acres it owns along 5300 South to a developer for nine acres farther north where the light-rail station will go.
Thanks to that trade, Johnson said, the passenger station can be larger with more room for parking.
Johnson hinted one reason UTA is having some success in encouraging development along the TRAX line is that UTA, unlike some other transit agencies, does not have the power to condemn and acquire property. That forces the agency to work closely with cities along the light-rail corridor, and that relationship fosters discussion and action on development issues.
Corradini said the planned 10.9-mile, $374 million west-east light rail extension is important to the success of the Gateway project as well as the success of UTA's light-rail system because it would close a double-track loop around the city center, making travel through the city by rail more efficient.
Johnson said transit-oriented development is a secondary concern for UTA. The agency's top priority is building a functional transit network. But, he said, adjacent development is a way for local communities to benefit from a system that otherwise has fostered concerns about noise, property values, traffic interference and other impacts.
Johnson said it's important for transit agencies and cities to work together early in the process of planning light-rail systems, when environmental issues are examined, because that's when station locations are determined. He said UTA had to go back and spend additional money to reposition some facilities because city leaders let their wishes be known at the last minute.
The annual Rail-Volution conference, which ended Wednesday, is co-sponsored by UTA and other transit agencies. Representatives from more than 200 U.S. cities attended the conference.