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Salt Lake City misses Sugar House Streetcar grant deadline

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Courtesy of Salt Lake City Mayor's Office This rendering shows 1100 East looking south from about 2000 South. The top image show what the Sugar House Streetcar would look like on 1100 East, while the lower photo shows 1100 East without it.

Remember the big rush to approve the 1100 East streetcar route so Salt Lake City could apply for federal funding? Well, forget about it — the city missed the June 30 deadline to apply for the transportation grant.

That raised eyebrows in Sugar House, where Phase I of the Sugar House Streetcar line is slated to open in December. It was funded, in part, by the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program — part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

But a spokesman for Mayor Ralph Becker downplayed the deadline Wednesday, saying the TIGER program for shovel-ready projects is ongoing.

“We didn’t miss a one-time funding opportunity,” Art Raymond said. “There was never enough time for a TIGER 6 grant application.”

He added, however, that the Becker administration would submit a grant application by June 30, 2014, for a TIGER 7 grant.

That caught City Council Chairman Kyle LaMalfa by surprise. He favored the alignment.

“I was disappointed that this round of TIGER funding didn’t work out,” he said in a statement. “I trust the administration to make efficient use of staff time by being selective with applying for grants that we have a good chance of winning.”

At this point, there is no funding or construction schedule for the 1100 East extension from 2100 South to 1700 South. It carries a price tag of at least $20 million. The funding conundrum could leave open the possibility for another alignment.

City Councilman Soren Simonsen, who represents the area and did not favor the route, said news of the missed deadline caught him off guard as well.

Simonsen said he could not support the 1100 East route because no local funding mechanism had been identified to match the federal TIGER money. He would like discussion on alternate routes to continue.

About $26 million in TIGER funds went to build Phase I of the Sugar House Streetcar line, which will run from 200 West and 2100 South east along an old railroad right of way to McClelland Avenue (1050 East) at about 2250 South. But Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake and the Utah Transit Authority had to come up with the remainder of the $55 million price tag.

Even with TIGER funding, Salt Lake City taxpayers could be on the hook for $10 million or more for the 1100 East streetcar extension. And that would require more community support than now exists, Simonsen said.

“To not have a discussion about [local] funding was a missed opportunity,” Simonsen said of the run-up to approval this spring. “The thing I fear most is that we get a federal grant and then have to figure out how to match it [after the fact].”

Sugar House business owner and resident Lori Leighton, who is against the 1100 East route, said she is dumbfounded that the city missed the deadline.

“They put the public through a lot of hell and lost people’s trust when they ramrodded it through,” she said. “People need to know they dropped the ball [on the deadline]. But I’m glad they did.”

csmart@sltrib.com

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