By DERIC C. NANCE
Utah legislators agreed Wednesday on a $50 million, 10-year guarantee to maintain an east-west light rail system in downtown Salt Lake.
Initially the federal government granted the state $450 million to cover the cost of building the system, but the federal guarantee left operation and maintenance to the state, said Lynne Koga, director of governor’s office of planning and budget.
Koga said the federal government would not give Utah the money for the rail until it was reassured that the state would provide for operation and maintenance. The federal government also needed a guarantee that the rail will be built in time for the 2002 Games. If the two guarantees could not be made, Koga said, the $450 million will be used elsewhere in the country.
Maintenance and operation of the system will cost nearly $8 million a year, Koga said. Utah Transit Authority agreed to cover $3 million while the remaining $5 million is guaranteed to be covered by the state beginning in 2002.
Because of the continual growth of Utah, the federal government would have likely granted Utah the $450 million even without the 2002 Olympic bid, Koga said.
The 11-mile rail is expected to run from the Salt Lake Airport, through the downtown area to the University of Utah, said to Coralie Alder, UTA community relation specialist.
A transfer station is available at 400 South and Main that allows a connection between east-west and the north-south rail. Buses will be available at the rail stops for more specific destinations, Alder said.
The north-south rail will connect Sandy to Salt Lake with a 15-mile track.
Alder said the light rails are a more cost-efficient and timely means of transportation. Alder said the buses provided by the city frequently run late due to increasing downtown traffic and construction.
The University of Utah is the second leading cause of congested traffic in the Salt Lake area, Alder said. He said the rail is expected to alleviate a great deal of this traffic.
In addition to the light rail, UTA will be providing articulated buses for communters in Utah County that will nearly double capacity size, Alder said.
Once the north-south light rail system is in place, the buses will makes several half-hour trips throughout the day to drop passengers off at the beginning of the light rail in Sandy. The light rails then decrease traveling time from Sandy to downtown Salt Lake and allow a variety of destination options, Alder said.
Alder said the Operation Life Safer Program will sponser safety campaigns to educate Utah citizens about the importance of safety around the rail. Ads will run in the newspaper and on television to help prepare for the new system.
Additionally, Alder says, safety education programs will be taught in the schools to teach children how approach the rail.