Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
Civic leaders board the UTA FrontRunner North in Woods Cross on Friday.

WOODS CROSS — Imagine flipping open a laptop on a table, plugging it into a power outlet, logging onto the Internet with free Wi-Fi and reading newspaper coverage about last night's Jazz game, downloading YouTube videos or putting the final touches on a presentation for work — all while gliding smoothly at 79 mph up Interstate 15 from Provo to Salt Lake City.

Or from Orem to Lehi. Or Vineyard to American Fork and on up to Ogden and Pleasant View in Weber County.

Imagination won't be needed much longer. Work on FrontRunner commuter rail from Salt Lake City to Provo could begin as soon as next month and be complete as early as 2011. That news and a ride on FrontRunner during a trial run between Woods Cross and Kaysville left Utah Valley leaders with big smiles Friday.

"I'm really impressed," Orem Mayor Jerry Washburn said. "It's really a smooth ride. I'm excited. I think it'll be a great alternative to the car. ... I'm not sure our residents realize how soon this is coming."

They'll be getting what most said they wanted. Sixty-nine percent of Utah Valley voters approved boosting the county's sales tax by a quarter-cent in November 2006. The money is primarily earmarked to pay for FrontRunner commuter rail.

To Washburn and Utah County Commissioner Larry Ellertson, timing is crucial. A massive $3.5 billion expansion of I-15 that will clog the freeway through Utah Valley could start by 2011 or 2012.

"We have to have FrontRunner before I-15 reconstruction begins," Washburn said.

Commuter rail opponents say many people won't use it because a total trip, including time to and from the rail stations, can take longer than a car trip, but Friday's ride appeared to make cases for both sides. From the park-and-ride lot in Woods Cross, the FrontRunner trial run sped along faster than every vehicle moving parallel to it on northbound I-15, but not by much, and stops at stations negate the higher speeds.

On the return trip, FrontRunner flew past traffic paralyzed by construction on southbound I-15.

Commuter rail from Salt Lake City north to Pleasant View, called FrontRunner North, is scheduled to open in the next few months.

Utility and drainage crews could begin work on the spur to Provo, dubbed FrontRunner South, after the first of the year, said Steve Meyer, commuter rail project manager for the Utah Transit Authority. Real construction is expected later in 2008.

FrontRunner South will cover 45 miles from Salt Lake City to Provo. The seven stops between those two stations are Orem, Vineyard, American Fork, Lehi, Draper/Bluffdale, Sandy/South Jordan and Murray.

The tracks use a continuous weld that eliminates the clickity-clack of railroad trains.

"It's quieter for the neighbors and smoother running for the train," Meyer said, "less wear and tear on the vehicles and at the joints."

Officially, Meyer said UTA expects to complete the Provo-Salt Lake line by 2012, but UTA spokeswoman Carrie Bohnsack-Ware said TRAX and commuter rail projects have all finished under budget and ahead of schedule, and Utah Valley leaders say they've been told 2011.

Final decisions have not been made for fares on the southern end, but FrontRunner North fares will be $2.50 to travel from one station to the next, then 50 cents per additional station up to a maximum of $5.50 per trip. If a rider also uses TRAX or a UTA bus to get to FrontRunner, that cost would be deducted from the FrontRunner fare.

And a FrontRunner rider can disembark and finish a trip for free on TRAX or a bus.

A monthly FrontRunner pass will cost $145. Each train will be equipped with power outlets and Wi-Fi, something being added now to UTA express buses that carry passengers between Provo and Salt Lake City, Bohnsack-Ware said.

The price tag for 44-mile FrontRunner North is $611 million. The 45 miles of FrontRunner South are expected to cost about $765 million.

A FrontRunner ride from Salt Lake City to Ogden is expected to take about 52 minutes. The trip from Provo to Salt Lake City would take about 60 minutes.

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