Local leaders seek millions in state money for transportation projects — mostly to attract development and jobs

(Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo) A TRAX train turns the corner on 200 south 400 west in Salt Lake City on April 26, 2018. Officials are seeking $250,000 from the Legislature to help complete a study looking at extending TRAX through Draper to Lehi.

Legislators heard pitches Tuesday seeking millions of state dollars for train and airport projects — which supporters say are actually needed more to attract development and jobs than just to improve transportation.

That included seeking $250,000 to help complete a study that could lead to a $1.2 billion extension of TRAX light rail through the soon-to-be-redeveloped Utah State Prison site in Draper and on to Lehi, and a $10 million request to allow the Ogden-Hinckley Airport to help Hill Air Force Base handle hoped-for expansion of missions.

The Utah Transit Authority and partners have already begun an $800,000 feasibility study on whether extending TRAX through the Point of the Mountain — or perhaps an alternate such as a bus rapid transit line — is affordable and desirable, and where the best route should be.

However, UTA and partners raised only $560,000 for the study so far, so it has divided research in phases to allow early work to proceed. Legislators were asked Wednesday to provide the $250,000 or so needed to complete it.

“If you don’t fund this and it doesn’t finish, we won’t be able to do any transit” at the Point of the Mountain, said Draper Mayor Troy Walker, one of the members of the Point of the Mountain Development Commission seeking the funding.

Last year, that commission started pushing for the TRAX extension saying redeveloping the area could generate billions in revenue throughout the Wasatch Front “if the right steps are taken.”

A study by Envision Utah for that commission said those “right steps” include about $3 billion in transportation improvements, including running TRAX through the area and extending the Mountain View Corridor freeway nearby. It said it could bring 150,000 jobs, which might otherwise be lost.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Amid such pressure, UTA began the study even though its officials in recent years had promised to focus more on improving community bus service than on more expansion of expensive rail service, which has created $2 billion in debt.

“I think our only way to effectively develop the prison site … is better transit,” Walker said. “This is the linchpin that this has to be done. So it's very important, and it’s not a lot of money” for the study.

Walker also warned that officials may return for help to conduct an environmental analysis after the current study, which may cost between $3.5 million and $10 million depending on the complexity of the alignment proposed.

Meanwhile, Ogden officials sought $10 million to upgrade taxiways, power, water, sewer and roadways so that the city airport may handle some work now conducted at Hill Air Force Base as its missions expand, and as contractors seek support contracts nearby. HAFB is one of Utah’s largest employers.

Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell said several aerospace companies that are bidding for new maintenance contracts for the C-130 have proposed using the Ogden-Hinckley airport for the work.

“We have challenges though,” the mayor said. “They need to be in and rolling by 2023. So that puts us on a really tight timeline to put this critical infrastructure in the ground.” He added that his city cannot afford it, and many potential jobs depend on finishing the work.

“We look at adding 900 jobs and $63 million in annual salaries to get those projects in the ground,” Caldwell said. “So there’s a quick turnaround and a quick payback to the state in terms of income tax that will be collected.”

Sen. Gregg Buxton, R-Roy, supported Ogden’s request. “These jobs will go to another state if we do not do this.”