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The Sugar House streetcar, or S-Line, is about to become more frequent and convenient, thanks to $4.5 million from Salt Lake County. Officials say that should also speed already extensive redevelopment along its two-mile length.

County Mayor Ben McAdams announced the contribution Tuesday, which will be combined with a $1.9 million federal grant to double-track a section between 300 East and 500 East, and help pay for more service that would result.

Currently, trains can pass each other in only one short double-tracked section, allowing trains to run no more than every 20 minutes. The change, expected to be completed in 2019, will allow them to run every 15 minutes.

"Wait time will be decreased by 25 percent, or five minutes," McAdams said. "It may not sound like a lot. But when you're waiting for a train, it makes a big difference whether you are deciding to jump in your car or take the train."

"It also allows us to connect more effectively with the rest of the TRAX network," which runs every 15 minutes, said Utah Transit Authority President and CEO Jerry Benson. Connections with buses at the Sugar House end of the line, which also run every 15 minutes, should improve, too.

Benson said the contribution will speed the project years faster than had been planned.

"Our hope," McAdams said, "is that as we have more frequent and reliable transit service here, it will be a catalyst for additional development."

The neighborhood along the portion of the line in South Salt Lake already "has taken on a huge transformation," said Mayor Cherie Wood. "It was well known by its aging and vacant industrial building," but now is bustling with new housing and growth.

She said 600 units of housing are under construction and are expected to bring 1,000 new residents. New businesses are also drawn by the S-Line.

"Today's announcement will ensure the two-mile modern streetcar will continue to transform South Salt Lake," Wood said.

The Salt Lake City portion of the line — east of 500 East — is also projected to add more than 1,000 residential units and nearly 2 million square feet of redevelopment in the Sugar House area. Half of that is already complete, according to UTA.

While the new line is attracting economic development, it has been slower to draw riders — but McAdams says that may change with more frequent service.

Last year, its average daily ridership was 1,262. The federal government expected 3,000 people a day to ride the line when it opened, according to a statement it issued in 2010 announcing a $26 million grant for the project.

But UTA notes that an environmental assessment before the line was built projected it to carry 2,000 riders a day by 2030. Officials have said ridership has been slower than hoped because the Great Recession delayed much of the development along the line before it was built, but it has surged back in recent years.

"We have had steady increases in our S-Line ridership since we opened. We have increased almost every single month," Benson said. "We're up 36 percent since we opened that line, and we know this [double-tracking] improvement will allow ridership to grow."

The nearby, parallel Route 21 bus line on 2100 South has seen comparable ridership — and didn't cost $37 million to build.

UTA figures show that between May 2016 and May 2017, average weekday ridership for the S-Line was 1,405. Average weekday ridership then on Bus Route 21 was 2,100.

But UTA notes that is a long bus route that serves several additional markets, including the University of Utah. The S-Line is much shorter at two miles between the Central Pointe TRAX Station and Fairmont S-Line Station at 1040 East.

The streetcar moves slowly by design — taking 12 minutes to cover its two-mile run. That's an average of 10 mph. The Route 21 bus takes 13 minutes to cover the same distance, often making more stops, and comes every 15 minutes. After the S-Line opened, The Salt Lake Tribune decided to see how long it would take to walk the line — and how much time the streetcar saves. In 2014, its then-56-year-old, 290-pound transportation reporter took 34 minutes to cover the distance.

But that could still beat the streetcar, or come near to tying it, in some instances.

For example, if someone just missed a streetcar at the end of the line, that passenger would need to wait 20 minutes for another one and then ride for 12 minutes — a total of 32 minutes, barely beating the middle-aged overweight guy on foot.

If the same rider were traveling just part of the line, perhaps a half or a third of it, the pedestrian could cover it faster, depending on how long the wait is for the next streetcar.

But the new improvements would make the streetcar an extra five minutes more frequent.

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