Less than a month after work began on a new TRAX line from Murray to the Daybreak development in South Jordan, Salt Lake City and the Utah Transit Authority signed an agreement to build a line from downtown to the airport.

While Salt Lake County still has to approve the funding mechanism for that airport line (the plan is to charge car owners $2 for it each time they register a vehicle in the county), this sets in motion an impressive array of new transit construction along the Wasatch Front. With gasoline past $4 a gallon, it can't happen soon enough.

Critics of rail transit ignore the possibilities of a valley that is connected through a spiderweb of tracks and feeder bus lines. While a lot of drivers may find it inconvenient currently to drive to a distant TRAX station and ride to work, studies have shown that Americans will gladly ride transit if it is convenient and reliable. The new lines will be a big step toward making the trains more convenient to thousands of people.

The airport line will connect the city to a major tourist entry point. Visitors who fly into the city will find it convenient to hop on a train to get to their hotels, much as people currently do in Portland, Ore., Washington, D.C., and other places. The airport also is one of the state's largest employers.

But the line will have the added advantage of rejuvenating North Temple along the way. Mayor Ralph Becker refers to the plans as creating a "grand boulevard." The street will have a TRAX line down the center, with two lanes of traffic on either side and bicycle lanes in either direction. That will be a boon to neighborhoods that long have felt neglected.

Before work starts, however, UTA will next break ground on a TRAX line to West Valley City. Later this summer, work also will begin on extending the FrontRunner commuter rail system to Provo.

Each line will take several years to complete. In the meantime, drivers will be on the lookout for alternatives to expensive daily commutes in their cars.

Answers to the energy crisis are many and varied. Westerners are not about to abandon their cars altogether. But UTA and many cities along the Wasatch Front are putting together a transit network that will provide an attractive alternative to thousands of people looking for a cheaper way to get around.