Local officials are gung-ho to build a $40 million streetcar line that would connect Sugar House to the main TRAX line. We like what rail has done and is doing for mass transit in the Salt Lake Valley, but we still have doubts about this project.
The streetcar seems like an obvious thing to do for a couple of reasons. First, the Utah Transit Authority already owns a railroad right of way that runs the two-mile length of the route at about 2300 South. The line would connect to TRAX at the Central Pointe Station just south of 2100 South between 200 West and 300 West. The east terminus would be 1045 E. Sugarmont Dr. (2225 South), in the neighborhood of the former Granite Furniture store.
Second, that right of way, an old freight line that once served the furniture store (remember the jingle "Granite's on the railroad track"?) would accommodate both track for the new trolley and an urban trail for bicycles and walkers. It crosses several major north-south streets, but TRAX has proved that probably would not be a problem.
The new service, described as a modern trolley car, would move relatively slowly on a single track and stop about every two blocks. It would run every 15 minutes during peak service, linking Sugar House, a retail and recreation center (think of Sugar House Park) to the rest of the valley.
It also would relieve automobile traffic on busy 2100 South and encourage further commercial development both along the corridor and in
That all sounds great. But is it worth $40 million? The funding source has not been nailed down.
According to the UTA's own study, capital investment for expanded bus service on 2100 South would cost only $10 million. The streetcar would cost $37 million. Buses are more expensive to operate, but you could run expanded bus service for 26 years on the difference in capital cost between buses and the streetcar.
TRAX has shown that Utahns will ride trains when they won't ride buses. That might be another point in the streetcar's favor, except that Utah doesn't have experience with a slow-moving streetcar system. We would hate for the Sugar House streetcar to turn out to be an expensive failed novelty, especially when UTA is straining to get the remainder of the TRAX and FrontRunner systems built and operating. To our eyes, those are the obvious top priorities, and they will require operating subsidies going forward.
In that context, a Sugar House streetcar seems like a stretch that perhaps should be postponed until the higher-priority projects are up and running for a while.