Phase two for the streetcar is moving forward

Plans for the second phase of the S-Line Streetcar in Sugar House.
Plans for the second phase of the S-Line Streetcar in Sugar House.

For the second time, the City of Salt Lake along with the Utah Transit Authority will pursue a TIGER Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) for the S-Line Phase II expansion.  During Tuesday’s heated council meeting, the Salt Lake City Council narrowly approved a resolution to match the remaining funds needed in the application process for the grant.

In a 4-3 vote, the Council passed the measure with an amendment from Councilmember Kyle LaMalfa requiring that the no new money will go to the project from the City’s general fund, apart from the $2.5 million approved by the Council in 2014.

The S-Line Phase II project will extend the S-Line from its current terminus at McClelland Street to the Highland Drive and 2100 South intersection.

The City would also be responsible for the remaining $3.1 million needed to complete the project.  Those funds could potentially come from new Class C road appropriations from an approved gas tax set for July 1, or from a Special Assessment Tax which would tax real estate parcels that would benefit from the streetcar extension.

“This is a project that needs to be finished,” said Council member Erin Mendenhall.

UTA is seeking $15 million from the DOT, with a local match of $12.1 million.  Salt Lake County will provide $6.5 million, the majority of which comes from funds allocated by the County for the Parley’s Way Trail.  According to transportation planners, to be considered competitive for the local match amount should be at least 30 percent of the requested amount from the government.   For the current grant application, the local match will be 45 percent.

Council member Lisa Adams, whose district includes the Sugar House neighborhood, argued that for many Sugar House residents the streetcar can only be accessed by car.

The construction of a 0.4 mile extension of rail for the S-Line Phase 2 up to 2100 South will include: lane conversions on Highland Drive, pedestrian crossing enhancements, green infrastructure (runoff control etc.), improvements to the McClelland Street Bikeway, additional lighting along Hidden Hollow and two segments of the Parley’s Trail, in both Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County.

A portion of the grant money would pay for utility improvements including needed repairs to a sewer line and the replacement of a hundred-year-old water main on Highland Drive.  According to the City, the sewer line needs enhancements to accommodate the hundreds of new residential units that have opened in the in Sugar House Business District in the past year.

South Salt Lake and UTA will not be financial partners in the S-Line expansion although UTA is effectuating the grant application.  South Salt Lake is planning its own expansion of the streetcar as part of its plans to create a downtown district between State Street and West Temple south of 2100 South.  The majority of Salt Lake County’s financial contribution will go towards work on the Parley’s Trail.

The Transportation Division briefed City Council in a work session Tuesday afternoon.  Transportation Division Director Robin Hutcheson stressed that the streetcar will travel the same speed as traffic and will run two lines of track on Highland Drive.  Double track is also planned for the section of track between 300 and 500 East.  According to Hutcheson, improvements will also be made to the 2100 South and 1100 East intersection when the streetcar is built.

Several Sugar House residents attended the City Council meeting to protest any expansion of the streetcar.  Those residents cited potential negative impacts to local businesses, a disruption of traffic in the already congested business district, and voiced concerns about approving a transit project while the City is still developing the Transit Master Plan.

Hutcheson argued to the City Council that widening roads does not improve traffic flow.  A 2009 study by economists at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Toronto found that local traffic increases in an almost one-to-one ratio with local road expansion.

A 2014 study by planners at the University of Utah found that the University TRAX line reduced traffic congestion along the 400 and 500 South corridors.

The Sugar House Business District’s population is growing.  Within the past 12 months, 500 residential units have been added within a block of the S-Line terminus at McClelland Street.  Another 100 residential units are under construction on Wilmington Ave.  That project will include housing for seniors.

“We need to provide more transit options for these new residents,” said Hutcheson.

Adams mentioned in the City Council work session that extending the streetcar to Highland Drive would make it more accessible to the new Wilmington Ave. project’s senior population.  Adams voted against the resolution in the formal council meeting.

Posted by Isaac Riddle

Isaac Riddle grew up just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. He has a BA in English literature from the University of Utah and a Masters of Journalism from Temple University. Isaac has written for Next City, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook and Salt Lake City Weekly. Before embarking on a career in journalism, Isaac taught High School English in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. Isaac is the founder of Building Salt Lake and can be reached at isaac@buildingsaltlake.com.