Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) UTA has a media preview ride-along on the new Sugar House Streetcar on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013. Opening ceremonies are scheduled for Thursday and it opens to the public Saturday.
Downtown Salt Lake streetcar coming later, but what about now?
Transportation » Council to weigh mass-transit alternatives from U. to downtown Salt Lake City.
First Published Jul 28 2014 10:01 am • Last Updated Aug 02 2014 09:54 am

Although the Salt Lake City Council has been wishing for a downtown transit circulator for years, it remains just that — an unfulfilled dream.

But on Tuesday, the council will consider a proposal by Mayor Ralph Becker’s administration for a streetcar in the central business district.

At a glance

Council meeting Tuesday

The Salt Lake City Council is scheduled to discuss plans for a downtown streetcar at its Tuesday work session. The meeting begins at 2 p.m. in Room 326 at City Hall, 451 S. State St.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

The plan is to run a streetcar line from the University of Utah west on 100 South or 200 South to 400 West, where it would turn south and continue to 900 South. The cost is estimated at $100 million to $200 million.

Among other things, the hefty price tag means it’s years away. No funding mechanism has been identified. No time frame has been set. But the proposal has spawned a wider transit conversation among council members.

Councilwoman Erin Mendenhall wondered aloud why the council, the Becker administration and the Utah Transit Authority don’t consider a bus circulator in the near term — though she conceded that rail has its advantages because routes are permanent.

"What gets riders to use mass transit is a permanent option," she said. "But why don’t we do a circulator bus and see what ridership is?"

Easier said than done. UTA determines where to route its buses — not the council, not the mayor. By contrast, the city can build streetcar lines on its own, or in partnership with UTA.

Councilman Luke Garrott doesn’t see the latest streetcar proposal as a downtown circulator. It doesn’t provide an entire circuit, he said, and its east-west leg is "redundant," given that it’s just two to three blocks from the 400 South TRAX line.

"A downtown circulator would be a boon for residents, workers and visitors," he said. "The streetcar doesn’t get us to a circulator and that is a huge missed opportunity."

Salt Lake City’s transit master plan won’t be completed until late 2015 or early 2016. Garrott said planning a downtown streetcar lacks context with an overall plan.

story continues below
story continues below

"There seems to be a disconnect on this project," he said. "This plan makes very little sense to me."

Although the master plan is more than a year away, transportation director Robin Hutcheson said earlier this year that it’s important to move forward with the downtown streetcar plan. Beyond providing better transportation around downtown, it would attract development investment and economic activity to the area.

The plan does lay out what is reasonable for a streetcar route, agreed Councilman Kyle LaMalfa. And the downtown streetcar plan does not stop other planning from going forward.

"This is work that has to be done, one way or another," LaMalfa said of transit planning.

Further, he noted, that while Salt Lake City can ask UTA for new bus routes, it cannot demand them.

Although the municipality could financially underwrite a new UTA bus route, it may not be economically feasible, LaMalfa said. Such a route could cost hundreds of thousands annually to operate, but fares would account for only 15 percent of the total.

"We’re in a Catch-22," LaMalfa said. "If the fares covered a lot more of the expense, we would have a little more control."

Nonetheless, Council Chairman Charlie Luke said the council must take the lead on bus routing because UTA has a regional commitment that does not necessarily prioritize Salt Lake City neighborhoods.

The city can find ways to add transit routes, he added, including partnering with other entities, such as the U., that also may be seeking more bus routes for employees and students.

"We have a responsibility to our residents," Luke said. "Our focus has to be on Salt Lake City."


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.