The Transport Politic profiles the progress of public transport in Utah.
Much thanks to federal spending, the Salt Lake City metropolitan area practically doubled the size of its TRAX light rail network this weekend, adding two extensions a year early and 20% under budget. Though estimates predict relatively modest ridership on the new lines, the routes provide the city and its suburbs one of the most comprehensive transit systems in the country, with frequent bus and rail corridors spread out in a grid across the immediate urban core…
In addition to the pre-existing 15.8-mile route from downtown Salt Lake to Sandy (which opened in 1999) and the 3.8-mile corridor to the University of Utah (which began operations in time for the 2002 Winter Olympics there), the 10.6-mile, $535 million Mid-Jordan route extends southwest from Fashion Place to a major development at Daybreak and the 5.1-mile, $370 million West Valley line runs from Central Pointe to West Valley Central Station. The 3.5-mile extension south from Sandy to Draper (receiving a 60% commitment from Washington), the 6-mile link to the airport, and the 44-mile FrontRunner South commuter rail route to Provo (getting 80% of its funding from the feds) are other parts of the program and are under construction, ready to be open by 2013 and 2014.
The region, with about 1.2 million inhabitants, now has as much light rail — 35 miles of it — as far larger metropolitan areas like Denver. Total TRAX ridership is expected to reach 58,000 a day by the end of this year, up from 43,000 today; ridership could exceed 100,000 daily by 2030.
Utah’s transit system is also, arguably, built efficiently.
Compared to light rail projects around the country, the $50.5 million and $72.5 million per mile spent on the Mid-Jordan and West Valley lines, respectively, is limited. They are on the low end compared to similar projects currently under construction in Portland ($204 million/mile), Houston ($145 million/mile), and the Twin Cities($87 million/mile). But Salt Lake had the advantage of building its rail lines along existing corridors, limiting right-of-way purchase costs. In addition, it has constructed most of its projects in the midst of a recession that has hit the construction industry particularly hard, making it possible to contract out the building of the tracks and stations at comparatively low prices.