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Where should Sugar House streetcar go next?

Published July 9, 2012 12:36 pm

Transit • City may have to pick up tab for Phase 2 of project.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Tennessee Williams named his streetcar "Desire." But the Salt Lake City Council may want to dub its trolley "Show Me the Money."

The council is ruminating about how to align Phase 2 of the Sugar House streetcar route. It could be key to future transportation strategies and urban planning in the area.

But federal transportation grants, such as the $26 million that helped pay for Phase 1, are all but nonexistent — for now.

"A big piece of planning is the funding piece, given the uncertainty of federal transportation money," Council Chairman Soren Simonsen said. "We're going to be looking at vastly different funding profiles."

Phase 1, expected to be completed by the end of 2013, will run from the TRAX Central Pointe Station at 200 West to McClelland Street (about 1050 East) along the old Union Pacific right of way at about 2250 South. It will cost about $50 million.

Phase 1 also was supported by $18 million from the Utah Transit Authority and $2.5 million apiece from Salt Lake City and South Salt Lake.

The Salt Lake City Council would like to stretch the line to Highland Drive and beyond soon after completing Phase 1.

But for Phase 2 funding, the city could be on its own.

The council, which also sits as the Redevelopment Agency Board, is seeking an alignment and funding mechanism that would have property owners who benefit from Phase 2 help underwrite it. That could come as incremental property tax financing or other assessments.

That's why Simonsen — with council colleagues Charlie Luke and Luke Garrott — wants to look at a route that runs even farther east from the Phase 1 McClelland terminus, to 1300 East and beyond.

"Going east we could do it [financially]," Simonsen said. "Because we already have 40 to 50 acres that are zoned for redevelopment."

Garrott noted that an eastern route beyond Highland Drive could take advantage of a potential redevelopment project on the commercial area surrounding Shopko. The extension of the Sugar House streetcar line is the beginning of what Garrott hopes will be a network of similar routes around the city.

"This is an historically important decision," he said. "We want to maximize the potential of Sugar House."

That notion to run the line farther east is counter to the study provided by the consulting firm of Fehr & Peers, which offered three other possibilities:

Alternative A • East from the Phase 1 terminus to Highland Drive via Sugar­mont Avenue.

Alternative B • East to Highland Drive on Simpson Avenue and then north to 2100 South and 1100 East, where it would turn around at a planned Monument Plaza.

Alternative C • Similar to B but continuing north on 1100 East from 2100 South to 1700 South.

Councilman Carlton Christensen said his colleagues should consider, among other variables, how an alignment would benefit surrounding properties; which route would create the most ridership; and how it would impact existing auto traffic.

"If you put a streetcar on 1300 East," he said, "it could impact traffic."

Like Christensen, Councilman Kyle LaMalfa, who also heads the RDA Board, doesn't like running the line to 1300 East. Unlike Simonsen, Luke and Garrott, he doesn't favor remaking the area to finance the streetcar.

"The question we have to ask ourselves is: Is it so important to put in a streetcar that we change the community?" he said. "The consultant said the alternative that goes north is the least disruptive [to the community] and makes the most economic sense."

There is no timetable set for the council's decision, largely because funding sources remain undefined.

"It's fair to say that how we will pay for this has not been determined," LaMalfa said. "The long-term vision for the streetcar is exactly that. No breaking ground in the near future."

csmart@sltrib.com