I recently visited Salt Lake City to join my husband at the end of a conference so we could add some hiking onto a drive back to Minnesota. One of the first things I noticed out the hotel window was a bicycle making its way up the street in front of the convention center. Later, walking through downtown (mostly pretty quiet on a Saturday), I saw the tracks for Trax, the light rail system here in Utah’s capital city.
According to story in the Salt Lake Tribune that ran June 18, the day before I arrived, Utah just ordered 77 new train cars that will be used to “stock four future Trax lines to Draper, Salt Lake City International Airport, South Jordan’s Daybreak development, and West Valley City.” I have no idea where these neighborhoods are (except the airport), but it appears that Salt Lake is building FOUR more lines while the Twin Cities is just breaking ground on its second. In Minnesota, we have plans for 2 additional light rail lines (LRT)—the Southwest LRT and one to be determined– between now and 2030. We are behind Salt Lake in both the extent of our transit network and the speed in building it.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports that the TRAX light rail system got going in 1999. The state’s transit web site, www.rideuta.com, shows a map of the FrontLines 2015 program, which will add 70 miles of commuter rail to the existing 64 mile rail network. The project also includes high-speed rail between Salt Lake City and Provo. It’s useful to note, too, that Utah is a Republican-leaning state and that the Chamber of Commerce in Salt Lake has been solidly behind transit network improvements.
“When we’re done before 2015, we will have 140 miles of rail transit in this community,” said the head of the Utah Transit Authority in the Tribune.
By comparison, in the Twin Cities, the Hiawatha LRT is 14 miles long and the Central Corridor will add 11 more miles when finished. The Northstar commuter rail is 40 miles long. So, by 2015, we will have 55 miles total.
Minneapolis may be the #1 bike friendly city according to ‘Bicycling Magazine,’ but a quick trip to Salt Lake City shows we are way behind other cities in building a 21-st century transportation network.
Oh, and the new LRT cars just ordered by Salt Lake City—they are equipped with a low-floor feature that makes them very easy for people with disabilities to use. That’s true of our rail cars in the Twin Cities as well. And, we are about to order 100 more cars. They will be used to make Hiawatha LRT trains three rather than two cars long and to stock the Central Corridor and Southwest LRT lines.