North or east? That's the question facing the Salt Lake City Council as it decides the immediate future of the Sugar House Streetcar. But, in the long run, the answer must be: both. In the short run, the most important decision will be to simply decide. And get on with it.
When Mayor Ralph Becker visited with The Tribune Editorial Board the other day, he told a story about a Tucson streetcar project that was supposedly "shovel ready" and received money in the first round of federal transportation grants several years ago.
While the first phase of Salt Lake City's streetcar is well on the way to completion, the Tucson project is still on the drawing board. That is because, the mayor explained, city officials in Tucson can't agree on a route.
Let's not let that happen here.
Salt Lake City must get its act together, decide on a route and be able to present a plan to the feds before the city can even apply for more federal money. And, as the city isn't exactly rolling in dough, the federal grant would spell the difference between doing the work or letting the project plans gather dust.
The first phase of the project extends east from the TRAX station at 2100 South and about 200 West to Fairmont Park. There is general consensus that it should continue to Highland Drive. That's where opinions diverge.
There are two main alternatives, both of which prompted City Council members, business owners and residents to argue heatedly at the first public hearing on the routing last week. The first would take the streetcar north along 1100 East to 1700 South. The other would run east on 2100 South to Highland High School at 1700 East.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each route, and the streetcar eventually should be extended in both directions. The 1100 East route would best serve Westminster College and the neighborhoods of 9th and 9th, but it is not popular with some residents and business owners. They like the quiet of the neighborhood and believe the streetcar would bring more high-density housing and larger businesses. It eventually would meet the 400 South TRAX line but now is merely a "streetcar to nowhere."
The 2100 South route would further congest that busy roadway, but also provide transit access to Sugar House Park and the high school, and could eventually run further east and north to the University of Utah.
Some city officials want to hold off choosing a route until a citywide transportation plan is approved. That would be the only wrong decision open to them.