OPINION: Utah is missing ‘The Point’ with its new transit plans around the former prison site

This is an opinion piece submitted by Matthew Givens. If you’re interested in submitting an op-ed to Building Salt Lake, email info@buildingsaltlake.comSign up to get our free emails in your inbox. 

The state of Utah’s unelected Point of the Mountain State Land Authority has quietly been at work for a few years planning what amounts to a new downtown area for Draper on the state-owned land where the prison used to sit.

Phase 1 of the new “15-minute city” was unveiled recently and is set to include over 2 million new square feet of office space, more than 3,000 new rental units, plenty of parking, and the beginnings of a “river to range” green space that will flow through the development.

This master plan, developed by renowned planning firm Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM), was at least partially informed by a UTA transit study from 2019 that recommended a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) connection, similar to Utah County’s UVX line, between the Lehi and Draper FrontRunner Stations.

It did not consider the possibility of building a new FrontRunner station exclusively for the prison site and so the higher-density offices and housing uses were not planned to be built near the FrontRunner tracks located at the northwest limit of the site.

After the Legislature gave the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) the responsibility for building rail projects in 2022, UDOT decided to do their own transit study for The Point.

The main result of that recently unveiled study is to change the official recommendation to a new $945 million light rail line along a similar route as the BRT one would have taken. This new train wouldn’t be connected to the TRAX Blue Line, largely because of “anticipated public opposition,” and so would require its own separate maintenance facilities.

Forget about the Blue Line extension to Lehi that has been promised for many years, and that the right-of-way all the way to Adobe is already owned by UTA, this new independent light rail line will only get you from The Point to Lehi with “future opportunities” to integrate with TRAX.

Another surprise is that apparently there is now a new FrontRunner station in the works, and that it’s somehow already partially funded by the state Legislature to the tune of $200 million.

The decision to pursue this new station was not publicly reviewed, and it’s not called for explicitly in any existing regional transportation plans.

To the latter point, the reason it has been excluded is that it does not make sense.

FrontRunner is not light rail like TRAX and should not be stopping every mile. Adding this costly new stop just one mile south of the Draper station would unnecessarily add noticeable time to the trip between Salt Lake City and Provo.

Why do I say “unnecessarily?” As the new study shows, the new Point station would require its own separate light rail spur to take passengers to the planned high density areas of The Point. So, unless the master plan is changed, the new station will not be more convenient for anybody riding the FrontRunner than the existing Draper station would be.

This doesn’t have to be complicated. If we are serious about getting people to ride the train to and through The Point, we need to get the transit planning right with the master plan that’s already been developed. Spend that $200 million wisely and connect The Point to TRAX and the existing FrontRunner stations in Draper and Lehi.

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