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Laura Seitz, Deseret News
Dignitaries launch styrofoam airplanes during a press conference announcing the Airport TRAX light rail line at the Utah State Fairpark in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.

Officials from the Utah Transit Authority and local dignitaries will break ground today on a TRAX line from downtown to the Salt Lake City International Airport.

UTA, however, is not committing to an exact date for when light-rail trains will begin rolling on the west side, saying the economy is complicating the timetable.

The airport project, along with light-rail projects through West Valley City, West Jordan and Draper and a FrontRunner commuter rail line to Utah County, are part of a $2.8 billion project called Front Lines 2015.

"Currently with this program, the only thing that is set in stone is we'll have those projects operational by 2015," said Brandon Bott, a UTA spokesman.

In fact sheets, however, UTA has said the airport line will be completed by 2012 or 2013.

"In those fact sheets, those are our best estimates for when those projects will be completed," Bott said. "There is flexibility in those dates. They are estimates. We're definitely impacted by the economy, the price of fuel and weather."

Two weeks ago at a meeting to review the 2009 budget, UTA officials discussed possibly opening the airport and Draper lines ahead of schedule and pushing back the opening date of the FrontRunner South to 2013 instead of 2012. UTA receives a portion of funding from sales taxes, but because the economy is soft, sales-tax revenue hasn't met expectations in 2008.

"Internally, we're looking at the economic situation and just trying to plan and consider scenarios, if you will, about when it would be best to bring in different projects," Bott said.

The airport line is 5 1/2 miles, beginning on North Temple at 400 West. A transfer station for FrontRunner passengers will be built at 500 West. The airport line continues along North Temple, then near I-215 and I-80 before curving toward the airport. The line ends at Terminal 1.

UTA projects 14,000 passengers will be using the line by 2030, Bott said, many of whom will be airport employees, passengers, and west-side residents.

The TRAX line to the airport was originally designed in 1999. It was supposed to be constructed when UTA built a line to the University of Utah, but financing hang-ups prevented construction. In 2006, when Salt Lake County residents agreed to raise property taxes for the Front Lines 2015 project, UTA said the airport line would open in 2010.

"It's exciting and it's a relief," said Salt Lake City Councilman Carlton Christensen. "One of the hardest things for me to accept was when we had to cancel that half of the project when we built the university line.

"I look at it as really an extension not only of downtown but as opening up some great opportunities for (Salt Lake City's) west side," he said. "It's not just the rail line, but also the opportunity to redevelop the North Temple corridor."

Contributing: Jared Page

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