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Ravell Call, Deseret News
Lane Beattie, right, president of the Salt Lake Chamber, shakes hands with United States Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood during the official groundbreaking for the Sugar House streetcar project in South Salt Lake Wednesday, May 9, 2012.
I had a dream one night about having a streetcar here. I used to live up here on Lake Street. —Doug White

For more information: Sugar House streetcar

SALT LAKE CITY — It's back to the future, as the streetcar makes a comeback across the country and here in Utah.

A crowd of more than 100 gathered in South Salt Lake Wednesday afternoon to break ground on the new Sugar House streetcar line. A large black-and-gold backhoe tore out a section of roughly 100-year-old Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad line to make room for new rails.

That itself was a historic moment for rail enthusiast and planner Doug White, who envisioned the project years ago.

"I had a dream one night about having a streetcar here. I used to live up here on Lake Street," said White, who is now helping the city of Boise plan a similar project. "From then on, I just took it on," he said.

The $55 million project, funded with $26 million in federal funds, will link Sugar House with the main north-south TRAX line over a 2-mile track. Mixed use development is planned at each stop.

"If you build it, they will come," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood. "You watch what happens along this corridor."       

In many ways, Salt Lake City is rebuilding the kind of extensive rail system it once had. Decades ago, Utah boasted one of the nation's best systems with lines extending outward from downtown in all directions.

"It was a horrible idea to get rid of it," White said. "Salt Lake City had a fantastic streetcar network and due to the powers that be at the time, they ripped it all out."

"People have been talking about the idea of building a trail, along with a new form of rail since the early ’80s" said community leader Lynne Olsen of Friends of the Streetcar. "Over time that dream evolved."

The new line, which will include seven stations, will take more than a year to build and is expected to open by late 2013.