UTA commended for completing rail lines early and under budget
Draper • U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx jumped to his feet clapping Â starting what spread into a standing ovation by all Â when he heard the magic words: The Utah Transit Authority's massive $2.5 billion "Frontlines 2015" projects are now officially complete two years early and $300 million under budget.
"What you have done here is an example to the country of what transit can do to transform communities," with the feat made possible only by the entire Wasatch Front working together, Foxx said at ceremonies Friday marking completion of the projects that have doubled the rail mileage in UTA's system.
The last piece finished is a 3.8-mile extension of the Blue Line to Draper, adding three new stations at 11400 South, 11800 South and Pioneer Road. UTA projects it will carry 2,250 passengers a day. That extension cost $147 million, about $50 million under the original projection, UTA said.
In what UTA General Manager Michael Allegra called a "golden spike moment" to mark completion of the Frontline 2015 rail projects, puffs of red and blue smoke were shot from fireworks tubes along the rails as the first train officially pulled into Draper at the end of ceremonies.
Voters in 2006 approved issuing bonds and raising sales tax to accelerate the projects to be completed in 2015 instead of the once-planned 2030. They were actually finished in 2013, and for $300 million less than once planned.
Other "Frontlines 2015" projects were TRAX light rail extensions to South Jordan, West Valley City and Salt Lake City International Airport, and extending the FrontRunner commuter rail from Salt Lake City to Provo.
Foxx noted the projects were built with the help of $545 million in federal grants, including $116 million for the Draper extension, and is an example of local, state and federal officials working together.
"It means better access to jobs for hard-working families. It means less time stuck in traffic. It means that the air is cleaner and clearer. It means that this region Â which is already one of the fastest-growing regions in the country Â will be better prepared to handle more people as they make the Salt Lake City region their home," Foxx said.
Gov. Gary Herbert said, "This really is the culmination of the will of the people." He said finishing early and under budget "is the Utah way," and so is forming partnerships to accomplish it.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said it is an example of how "in Utah, we live within our means."
Wasatch Front residents have already received a big return on their investment, Allegra said. "There are $7 billion to $10 billion worth of investment that have been placed along the 2015 projects," he said. "We see that as only going up and expanding."
Greg Hughes, chairman of the UTA board who is also a state legislator from Draper, noted that Draper was once a small farming community. He said it is now home to 44,000 residents and growing companies such as eBay and Edward Life Sciences Â which create the need for transit there.
Draper Mayor Darrell Smith said the TRAX extension "isn't the end of the line" but "just the beginning," noting UTA has said it hopes to extend that line eventually into Utah County.
But for now, Allegra told the crowd that UTA figures it has finished its major rail projects and is entering a new phase where "we are going to focus on the customer and customer service. We need to define and refine our bus systems and bus rapid transit systems in our future."
That comes amid some criticism of the downsides of the Frontlines 2015 expansion during the recession. To afford operating new lines, UTA had to cut much of its night and weekend service, and made deep cuts in bus offerings.
State audits questioned if UTA could afford operating the new lines, and credit rating companies downgraded UTA's bond rating because of its heavy debt. Also, questions arose just this week about whether UTA achieved some of its cost savings by skirting state laws to withhold too much money from contractors to ensure work was completed properly, and did not pay normally required interest on it.
But Allegra said Frontlines 2015 has helped UTA reach its highest ridership ever, although UTA data show it has been stagnant in the past year.
"We see that doing nothing but getting better and growing. We are committed to even greater service," he said.
'Food for Fare' Saturday
P People who donate a nonperishable food item at one of the three new stations on the Draper TRAX extension will be given a pass good for use throughout the TRAX system on Saturday. Community celebrations with food and music are also planned at the three stations. After that free preview day, service will officially begin on the line on Sunday.