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By this time next year, many suburbanites from West Jordan to West Valley City will be heading to work or school with their hands wrapped around a laptop instead of a steering wheel.
At least that's the vision of Utah Transit Authority officials who announced Thursday that the Mid-Jordan and West Valley TRAX lines will launch Aug. 7, 2011.
"We will open both up at the same time," UTA General Manager Mike Allegra told a cheering crowd of employees outside the hulking Jordan River Service Center, a former ZCMI warehouse in South Salt Lake that will house the light-rail fleet. "We are looking forward to reinvigorating transportation on the west side of Salt Lake County."
UTA executives also declared construction on the $2.5 billion FrontLines 2015 program, which includes the TRAX spurs to Draper, the international airport, and the 45-mile commuter rail extension to Provo, is 50 percent complete.
"While the talking points say we are on schedule and on budget, as chair of the UTA board, I will tell you we are ahead of schedule and under budget," Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, told the gathering. Completing 70 miles of transit line in less than seven years as pledged, he said, is "unprecedented."
None of it would be possible without a chunk of local sales tax, which voters committed to in 2006. The business community backed that initiative, said Salt Lake Chamber Vice President and Chief Economist Natalie Gochnour, for "reasons like today."
Gochnour praised the projects for providing a transportation choice, productive employees, better air quality and a reduced cost of doing business through less congestion.
The Mid-Jordan route will connect Murray, Midvale, West Jordan and South Jordan with the main Sandy/Salt Lake TRAX line. The West Valley spur will connect to the main spine at 2100 South and extend west to the future West Valley City Intermodal Center adjacent to West Valley City Hall. Poles for the West Valley line already are in place, awaiting their overhead power lines. Testing for the new routes is being conducted over a two-mile track in Daybreak.
The Jordan River Service Center, near 2200 South and 900 West, will employ 200 people and has seven light-rail tracks running into the building. It is undergoing a $40 million renovation, $24.6 million of which was provided through federal stimulus funds.
Right now sales-tax depending the FrontRunner extension to Provo is on track. "The challenge we're facing with the down economy," said project manager Steve Meyer, "is managing that cash flow."
In less than a year, when two trains connect a major swath of the valley to downtown, Hughes predicts major buy-in from cities in west Salt Lake County. About 70 percent of transit riders now, he notes, are "choice riders" who park their cars.
Hughes is particularly excited about servicing the next generation of riders, who prefer tapping iPads to gas pedals during their commutes.
"That new demographic coming into our job market is going to have to be accommodated," he said "That's our vision."
More transit on the way
TRAX extensions to Draper and Salt Lake City International Airport should be completed by 2013.
FrontRunner commuter rail will connect to Provo in 2014.
By the numbers
50,000 new TRAX riders are expected to hop aboard the Mid-Jordan and West Valley City lines.
2,700 full-time jobs will be created by the new transit projects planned between now and 2015.