Just when Salt Lake motorists and business owners thought it was over, light-rail construction has resumed near downtown.
Nine months after the grand opening of the north-south TRAX line, construction crews Monday began work on a 2.5-mile branch that will run from Main to the University of Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Planners hope the $118 million project will be finished by the 2002 Olympics, although the official completion date is not until November 2002.
The intersection at 400 South and 400 East is the first to be tackled, with crews digging in to examine the current location of utilities, which eventually will be moved to the side of the street. Three eastbound lanes of traffic and two westbound lanes will be open until 8 p.m. Saturday, when north-south traffic on 400 East will be stopped for heavy construction. The street will reopen Monday at 5 a.m., said Chris McBride, UTA public involvement specialist for the University line.
Emmanuel Fontes, general manager of the Arby's, 420 E. 400 South, said Tuesday he didn't notice any disruption on the first day of construction. "No problems as of yet. Yesterday was a good day for us, actually."
Fontes said he doesn't anticipate construction to affect business too much but also acknowledges that it may be too soon to tell.
"I'm watching and trying to see what will happen," he said. "But I actually want light rail, I think it will affect us quite a bit with the Olympics coming."
Sharon Evans, spokeswoman for SLC Rail Constructors, the construction consortium for the project, said plans have been carefully designed to have minimal impact on businesses and residences along 400 South.
"I think all of them are concerned that we take every precaution possible to minimize the impact," Evans said. "We have been very, very heavily involved with getting information and feedback with the community."
UTA's contract with SLC Rail Construction has numerous requirements, McBride said. For example, two lanes of traffic must be maintained in each direction during daylight hours and one lane at night in heavy construction areas. In light construction areas, which will surround the heavy areas, at least three lanes must be open in each direction. Driveway entrances and pedestrian access must be preserved as well, McBride said.
Despite assurances, some business owners along 400 South are concerned.
"I'm a victim of Main Street," said Bryce Zundel, owner of The Baglery on the corner of 900 East and 400 South, said of how light-rail construction put him out of business once and that now it could happen again. Zundel operated a store at 264 S. Main last year but said the north-south light-rail construction caused him to lose nearly $480,000 and forced him to close down.
Mike Johanson, president of Chuck-a-Rama restaurants, is also uneasy.
"If people hear that there's construction of 400 South and that there are traffic delays, people will avoid 400 South," Johanson said.
Current plans call for raising the curb in front of Johanson's restaurant at 744 E. 400 South, which he said will "put his front door under water in a heavy rainstorm."
Johanson said he has been and will continue to be in contact with city planners. "All we can do is express our concerns and give them as much information and help as we can. Hopefully they'll make the right decisions."
A Community Coordination Team, made up of business owners and residents, has been working with city planners and will be watching to make sure they respond to concerns.
Jonathan Caldwell, a member of the team and a 400 South resident, said the best thing people can do is contact the team with concerns. Representatives from the team will relay those messages to both UTA and SLC Rail Constructors, he said.
A 24-hour hotline has also been established, McBride said, urging citizens to call 556-TRAX to report any problems.
Salt Lake City Council member Carlton Christensen said that although light-rail construction is not a perfect situation, it is a workable one. Construction will be inconvenient, he said, but will be worth it in the long run.
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