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S-Line, rapid transit and more: A deeper look into Utahs historic transit infrastructure funding – KSL.com

SALT LAKE CITY — A plan to extend S-Line streetcar and funding for a new “mid-valley” Salt Lake County rapid transit bus system were just some of the projects approved under a bill that included over $1 billion in state spending to accelerate transportation and other infrastructure projects across the state.

HB433 cleared the Utah Legislature on it’s second-to-last day. It authorized $264 million in bonds for “specified transportation and transit projects.” It also appropriated about $834.6 million in one-time spending from state revenue sources.

Sen. Kirk Cullimore, who served as the floor sponsor of the bill, explained before the legislation passed that it was meant to speed up “a lot of projects on the transportation commission list” and address other priority projects in Utah.

Gov. Spencer Cox still hasn’t signed the bill but many of the projects included in it were supported by his budget proposal heading into the legislative session. Money allocated in the bill wouldn’t be distributed until at least July 1, which is the start of the 2022 fiscal year.

Some of the measures inside the bill include a Cottonwood Canyons fund and water pipeline projects in the state. About $333.6 million of the funding passed through the bill went toward Utah Transit Authority projects.

Shule Bishop, the director of government relations for UTA, called it a “historic” legislative session for the agency during its board meeting Wednesday morning.

“We’re pretty grateful for the amount of trust that the legislature has given us and providing us appropriations and things like that,” he said.

The UTA project that garnered the most attention was one that would double-track Utah Transit Authority’s FrontRunner lines. About $300 million in either bonds issued or one-time spending grants were offered toward that project; however, several other UTA projects would receive funds through the bill.

Here’s a deeper look at what the money would go toward.

FrontRunner spending: Double-tracking, Vineyard Station and more

Most of the $264 million in bonds in the bill, about $232 million in total, are to go toward the Utah Transit Authority for a handful of projects but mainly improvements toward FrontRunner.

The bill’s most notable spending went toward the double-tracking FrontRunner. The project would allow for more frequent trains and faster transportation between Ogden and Provo. An additional $100 million in one-time spending was also set aside for the project.

Carolyn Gonot, UTA’s executive director, said during Wednesday’s UTA board meeting that the agency would also seek a federal grant to help with the project.

Currently, close to 22 miles of the entire route is double-tracked, which accounts for about one-fourth of the route between Ogden and Provo. Many of those areas are closer to stations.

FrontRunner trains move people in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020.
FrontRunner trains move people in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2020. (Photo: Scott G. Winterton, KSL)

It also means the vast majority of the current route is single-tracked and that comes with service limitations. For instance, trains traveling north and south have to stop at the end of some double-track portions just to allow a train in the other direction to move through safely.

“The limitation that comes with single-tracking is that the trains need to be able to meet in the right place so they can pass each other,” said Manjeet Ranu, director of capital projects for the Utah Transit Authority, in an interview with KSL.com Wednesday. “So that limits the capacity and speed of the system.”

It also means UTA could increase the frequency of trains on the rails, the number of people on FrontRunner and the speed between stops just by adding a second track alongside the current route. The project wouldn’t double track the remaining three-fourths of the route but would offer “strategic” double-tracking to speed up the current system.

Ranu said that would make it a “more desirable system” and make it an easier option for people who don’t want to commute on freeways to work along the Wasatch Front.

“It’s really about providing choice for how people want to move in our region,” he said.

Construction on FrontRunner double-tracking is currently anticipated to begin as early as 2023, he said.

But that wasn’t the only spending toward FrontRunner improvements. Another $4 million from the bond went toward the UTA and Sharp-Tintic railroad consolidation project and $1.6 million in one-time spending was approved for a new train station in Vineyard were also included.

This would add one new stop along FrontRunner in Utah County that could be completed by the end of this year and open the possibility for UTA to extend train service farther south into the county.

UTA unveiled its Sharp-Tintic Railroad Connection Project a few years ago. A 2019 document produced by the agency stated that the project would create about 7,000 linear feet of new railroad tracks to connect the Sharp and Tintic railroad corridors in Utah County.

These maps show where the  Sharp-Tintic Railroad Connection Project would be located. The first map shows its location to FrontRunner end location in Provo while the second shows crossings in Springville that freight trains would no longer cross after its completion.
These maps show where the Sharp-Tintic Railroad Connection Project would be located. The first map shows its location to FrontRunner end location in Provo while the second shows crossings in Springville that freight trains would no longer cross after its completion. (Photo: Utah Transit Authority)

Under the plan, it would allow Union Pacific to reroute freight trains to the Sharp Railroad line so that bypass its current route through residential areas in Springville. It would also provide UTA the opportunity to potentially expand FrontRunner service to southern Utah County in the future after at least one more rail project.

“It does facilitate future development in Springville, Spanish Fork and the all the way to Payson,” Gonot said, adding that the $4 million received from the state in the bill would complete all the funding needed for the connection project.

Meanwhile, the new station in Vineyard would provide access to FrontRunner service for residents of the fast-rising community. The new stop would be located between the Orem and American Fork stations. While 2020 Census population data hasn’t been released, the Census Bureau estimated that the city’s population jumped from 139 in 2010 to 11,866 by 2019.

Gonot said Wednesday that construction on Vineyard Station is supposed to “begin any day now” depending on when the construction agreement is signed. It’s expected to be completed by the end of the year.

“This would be a station that would help serve that city that right now would either need to go to American Fork or to Orem,” she said.

S-Line extension: Taking “a step” closer to Highland Drive

Another $12 million from the bond would go toward an S-Line expansion in Salt Lake City from its eastern terminus closer to Highland Drive, which means it will be closer to the Sugar House business and residential hub.

The S-Line, which launched in 2013, currently runs between Central Pointe Station (221 W. 2100 South in South Salt Lake) to Fairmont Station, which is located at 1040 E. 2200 South in Salt Lake City. UTA completed some double-tracking on the line in 2019 that allowed the street car service to run every 15 minutes.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall lauded the legislature for the funding in a video posted to social media last week. She said the project would move the service closer to Sugar House’s economic and residential center east of where the service currently stops.

“This is a long-awaited opportunity for us to take riders further using public transportation,” she said. “Although our plans still need to go through a robust public process and be approved by the city council, I’m excited that we will finally have a head on the body of the S-Line that we have been missing for so long. This is a tremendous opportunity for our city and we are thrilled.”

The money allotted for the expansion this year would help toward the second phase of the project but wouldn’t expand the service more than an additional stop for now, Ranu explained. However, it’s not expected to be the final extension of the S-Line.

“It’s a good down payment on getting it further to the east and into the heart of Sugar House and facilitating discussions about how to potentially extend either north or south in the future,” he said. “It really is about taking that next step.”

Mendenhall added that the project could be conducted ahead of or alongside any future road construction along Highland Drive in the neighborhood. A map shared during UTA’s board meeting shows that the S-Line would potentially grow with its line turning north or south along Highland Drive.

This map shows the S-Line extension plan in Sugar House. The red line shows where the route will be extended, while the blue lines show the possible directions the line will go from there.
This map shows the S-Line extension plan in Sugar House. The red line shows where the route will be extended, while the blue lines show the possible directions the line will go from there. (Photo: Utah Transit Authority)

UTA and Salt Lake City leaders are expected to meet soon over possible extension plans beyond the new extension to Highland Drive — with plans that will be shared with the public in the future.

Midvalley Connector

Another $11 million in the bond would go toward UTA’s “Midvalley Connector” rapid bus transit system project for areas in Salt Lake County. Gonot said that the project also received about $22 million from the state legislature last year.

“Those two combined will actually allow us to leverage another $50 to $60 million from the federal to really make this a high-quality (bus rapid transit) as well,” she said.

This map shows the proposed route of the Midvalley Connector rapid bus route between West Valley City and Murray.
This map shows the proposed route of the Midvalley Connector rapid bus route between West Valley City and Murray. (Photo: Utah Transit Authority)

The route would run between the Murray Central Station and West Valley Central Station with access to the Salt Lake Community College campus in Taylorsville in between.

It would be similar to the currently-operating Utah Valley Express route between Orem and Provo, and a system that got federal funding last year in Weber County.

Ranu said construction on the route is currently scheduled to begin in earnest in 2023 and the new rapid bus system could be in service by early 2025. The schedule could change depending on federal funding timelines.

Another Rapid Bus Transit plan in the future? And other bond notes

UTA released a video last week that shows an updated route for a plan to add a rapid bus transit system between the Draper and Lehi FrontRunner stations that would zigzag through current or proposed tech hubs and recreation areas within southern Salt Lake and northern Utah counties.

The final $5 million in the bond would go toward an environmental study of the region for the project, Gonot said Wednesday. The current plan would include six or seven stations with “enhanced area amenities” along the route.

As for other aspects of the bill, it states that UTA agreed to pay $5 million per year for 15 years to help repay for the bond.

Meanwhile, the legislature approved another $25 million in bonds that would be issued for the Forest Street Rail Bridge Project in Brigham City, while another $3 million would go toward an environmental study for a grade separation project at 1100 North in North Salt Lake.

The vast majority of the one-time money from the bill went toward road projects all across Utah. The full list of projects that received some funding can be found here.

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