Draper • On a cold wintry day, Federal Transit Administration chief Peter Rogoff personally delivered the Obama administration's agreement to provide $116 mil-lion in cold cash for the under-construction TRAX extension from Sandy to Draper.
"This will provide reliable and desirable transit for these communities," Rogoff said Monday at an announcement ceremony at the Draper City Park, near the end of the line of the future extension in Draper.
He said the new line will offer "the difference between pulling your hair out in congestion on the interstate [highway], versus being able to get a little extra work done on the way home and being able to put that work away and enjoy your kids when you get home."
With the full funding agreement, the federal government will pay 60 percent of the estimated $194 million cost of the 3.8 mile extension of the TRAX blue line. It will add three stations at 11400 South, 11800 South and Pioneer Road (about 12400 South).
Construction is already about 50 percent complete, said E. Gregory Thorpe, Utah Transit Authority's manager of light-rail engineering and construction. Tracks are laid, which allowed hauling in a TRAX train as a backdrop for the ceremony. But stations and overhead power lines are still under construction.
Thorpe said all construction is expected to be completed in May, to be followed by six months of testing and certification before the extension opens.
Rogoff praised Utahns for investing in transit.
"I often point to Salt Lake and its surroundings as a true leader in this effort. Why? Because they bit the bullet and voted to tax themselves [with a sales tax increase] so they could not just match the federal dollars needed to build these projects, but overmatched them and built them that much sooner," Rogoff said.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood also issued a statement saying the new TRAX extension "is a terrific example of how investing in our transportation systems lays a strong foundation for our nation's economic growth."
That comes a few days after Gov. Gary Herbert said he is proud that Utah receives less federal funding than most states, and said "relying on the federal dole is an unsound way to restore economic prosperity."
Lt. Gov. Greg Bell said at the announcement ceremony as Rogoff looked on, "Thank you so much for this generous return of our investment."
Salt Lake Chamber President Lane Beattie told the crowd that a few years ago many businesses questioned whether they should come to Utah as they worried about traffic gridlock. "Today that's no longer an issue," because he said improved transit is "one of the prime reasons why companies from around the world are looking at relocating to the state."
Draper Mayor Darrell H. Smith hailed the federal investment. "Thank you from the bottom of my heart. It is a very historic day in Draper."
The Draper extension is part of five major projects that UTA originally hoped to have completed by 2015, but all are either completed or ahead of schedule. They include the already opened West Valley City and Mid-Jordan TRAX extensions, and under-construction extension of TRAX to Salt Lake City International Airport and the FrontRunner commuter rail from Salt Lake City to Provo.
"We are ahead of schedule, and we are under budget," said Greg Hughes, who is chairman of the UTA board and a state legislator from Draper.
Safety warning with money
A top federal official delivered more than money for TRAX on Monday he also brought a warning about train safety.
"UTA has had some recent, troubling safety incidents. I get emails on every one of them," Federal Transit Administration chief Peter Rogoff said at a ceremony Monday. TRAX has been involved in 13 accidents this year, five with vehicles and the rest with pedestrians.
He said as TRAX moves into neighborhoods, it is around people not used to trains and how dangerous they are. "FTA is here to help UTA take on this safety challenge. It's going to take every one of us to talk to our kids, to talk to our parents, and talk to our neighbors about how to operate safely" around trains.
Last month, The Tribune reported on an analysis of FTA data showing TRAX trains had much higher rates of accidents, injuries and fatalities during the past five years than the transit systems nationally that are most similar to it. UTA's rate for fairly serious accidents was twice as high as the average for other transit agencies of similar size.