We broke ground one year ago to construct the first phase of a modern streetcar that will connect the Sugar House business district with the main TRAX line at 2100 South. This first phase of the streetcar line will open later this year.
The new transit line, together with a section of Parleys Trail that is being constructed alongside in a new parkway, will be a great asset to the community. It improves our regional connections and transportation choices, and is already generating enormous return on investment.
Accommodating another million residents in Salt Lake County and addressing some of our most pressing growth issues air quality, employment, housing and quality of life requires more of this long-range thinking and action.
The most important next connection the streetcar can make is into the Sugar House shopping center and Sugar House Park at 1300 East. The park is a regional destination and is used for outdoor recreation all year long. Connecting people with open space is an essential ingredient to the quality of life for those choosing more urban lifestyles as we continue to build up in the heart of Sugar House.
This short extension will allow the addition of thousands of new housing units and jobs for our growing population, with minimal impact to existing neighborhoods and local businesses. It also has the greatest potential for substantive local funding through tax increment or additional property tax assessment necessary for streetcar expansion.
The shopping center is already zoned for more intensive, quality urban development and the potential funds captured are equitable with the return on investment.
There is not yet broad support for the major redevelopment or increased taxes necessary to fund a streetcar on either 1100 East or 2100 South like we have had with the first phase, so we must expand the streetcar incrementally.
However, beyond 1300 East and Sugar House Park, the next best option is to extend eastward, which will best serve Westminster College, Highland High School, surrounding neighborhoods and business centers.
As people become more familiar and comfortable with streetcars, extending both east and north will become more viable options.
Extending anywhere beyond Sugar House will be a challenge because of funding constraints, but an eastern expansion has more promising opportunities to capture funding sources with less disruption to neighborhoods and business nodes.
It ultimately connects to larger employment and business centers, and is a far more convenient connection to Foothill Boulevard and Parleys Way, University of Utah, Research Park and the Wasatch Canyons.
Residents of Salt Lake City who want to use transit are frustrated by the high cost for short trips, the long trips and transfers at the university and downtown often required to go even short distances, and the lack of service in the evening hours and on weekends.
Extending the streetcar east and west won't solve all of these problems, but without a viable transit network even the cost of service and extended hours won't make transit convenient.
Convenience is the most important criterion to make transit a viable alternative for most people, and an east and west connection is the most important way to address convenience for transit service, which does more than merely duplicate existing bus service.
Even many of those who don't use transit regularly understand the benefit. Transit addresses the transportation needs of more than one-third of our population who don't drive, and it eases congestion for those who do.
Building on the success of the first phase of the streetcar by extending it to Sugar House Park, and then gradually east toward Foothill Boulevard and west toward Redwood Road, offer the best chance of completing a transit network that will serve Salt Lake City well for generations to come.
Soren D. Simonsen is a member of the Salt Lake City Council representing District 7, which includes the proposed streetcar routes.