The six-mile line, branching off the existing TRAX network at 400 West and traveling largely along North Temple Street, will cost $300 million. The project was first planned a decade ago to be built at the same time as the tracks from downtown to the University of Utah, but at that time UTA could secure only enough money to build the U. line before the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Becker and UTA Assistant General Manager Mike Allegra inked an agreement Thursday that should start construction by year's end. Allegra said rail cars should be serving the airport within four years.
By that time Becker said the city also will transform the route along North Temple Street into a "grand boulevard" with new landscaping and two bike lanes in each direction.
"This will serve a tremendous array of possible users," said Becker, calling the step "an indication of a modern city and an urban city."
The agreement's signing also extends the downtown TRAX and bus free-fare zone east to Library Square - a concession the city bargained for while pledging money toward the airport line's construction.
City transportation director Tim Harpst said the airport line solidifies Salt Lake City's status as a convention city, because conventioneers around the country are used to flying into cities where they have no need of car rentals. Airport executive director Maureen Riley said the rails will enhance the airport's regional economic role.
"Airports all over the country are becoming intermodal hubs," she said. "That's in Salt Lake's future too."
Becker thanked Salt Lake County for its help with the project.
The city pledged $35 million for the portion on airport property, but needed the county's help to use hotel taxes after the Legislature barred use of airline passenger fees.
After the airport line, Salt Lake City's TRAX priority is to complete one and possibly two downtown loops, transportation director Tim Harpst said. They would head south from the hub at 600 West to 400 South and 700 South, then link to the existing north-south line. UTA Assistant General Manager Mike Allegra said such a plan is in the "conceptual" stage.