Commuter rail: Once a gamble, TRAX ingrained in Wasatch Front’s future

This article by María Villaseñor is a great history of Salt Lake City‘s TRAX light rail along with some projections of its future.  Conservative groups protested its development up until opening day, when so many people wanted to get on the trains that hundreds had to be turned away.  TRAX has expanded from a single North-South line to a University of Utah line and an extension to an intermodal hub which links to FrontRunner, the commuter rail line that currently runs north of Salt Lake and will soon begin a new line to the South.  TRAX ridership has more than doubled since it first started.  The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) has plans to make rail the backbone of a public transit system that will have stops within one mile of 90% of the urban population of the entire Wasatch Front.  People are discovering that commute times are comparable during rush hour, and that you can actually relax and get other things done on transit instead of getting road rage in the gridlock on the freeway.  People assumed that Salt Lake residents would never give up their cars, but that simply wasn’t true, and isn’t for any other city.  Funding was a huge issue for TRAX, because Utahns are very averse to taxes, so UTA had to go to the Feds to get most of their funding.  They found that light rail is much more cost-effective than busing, to the tune of $1.25 per person on light vail versus $3-4 per person on bus.  Since TRAX has gone in, people have realized that it’s worth the investment, and voted for funding mechanisms for TRAX in both 2000 and 2007.  There are new lines proposed for west Salt Lake, West Valley City, Midvale, West Jordan, South Jordan, and possibly Draper.  Both TRAX and FrontRunner have set up transit-oriented development opportunities at their existing and future stops.  However, increased TRAX service should not be used as an excuse for decreased bus service.  Buses run infrequently on the Wasatch Front outside of Salt Lake City, and they need to have service improvements along with the rail systems.  That being said, before TRAX only 25% of people in the Salt Lake area had used transit in the last year.  That number is now 75%.  TRAX has done immense good in Salt Lake City and changed a lot of minds about transit in general, and I hope that this trend will continue.


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