A round of applause for the Beehive State: Two new light rail lines are officially opening this weekend in the Salt Lake City area, with the Utah Transit Authority saying it’s the first time any region has opened two lines at the same time.
The UTA is also saying that both projects were delivered early and about 20 percent under budget. The Mid-Jordan line is 10.6 miles long and cost $535 million. The West Valley City extension is 5.1 miles long and cost $370.
Taken together, the two lines cost about $57.6 million per mile — which is a very good price compared to most new light rail lines in the nation. Most Metro light rail lines cost much more due to tunnels and bridges needed in a denser urban environment.
But the Gold Line Foothill Extension has a similar low cost: the two construction contracts to build the 11.5-mile line from Pasadena to the Azusa/Glendora border total about $505 million and the total cost is projected to be $735 million, a price that includes a large maintenance yard in Monrovia and new light rail vehicles.
Here’s a story in the Salt Lake City Tribune about the new lines there. The Salt Lake area is in the midst of a plan to build 70 miles of light rail and commuter rail by 2015, a program made possible by a quarter-cent sales tax increase approved by voters in 2006. It’s a smaller overall program than the Measure R program approved by voters here — a program that is funding 12 transit projects, bus operations, highway improvements and is also returning 15 percent of its funds to local cities.
I think the bigger story here is about the large western U.S. cities aggressively trying to catch up to their eastern counterparts when it comes to building transit. Portland and San Francisco got a head start and now Salt Lake City, Denver, Seattle and the Los Angeles area are catching up. It bodes well for the region, which will have exciting cities to match the West’s often spectacular settings.