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Last year, Utah Transit Authority purchased 175 miles of railroad right-of-way from the Union Pacific Railroad. Price tag: $185 million. UTA moved immediately to the environmental phase for a new commuter rail line that will run from Ogden to Salt Lake City, expected to open in 2006.
Ten years from now, when Utah residents look back at the price tag they paid for the rail right of way, odds are they'll recognize the sale of the century.
Like other states, Utah currently is struggling with a budget deficit. And like other states, Utah is tightening its belt, reining in spending and cutting budgets. Folks in this traditionally conservative state are as fed up with taxes as people elsewhere, maybe more so.
Why then, in 2000, did voters from three of the most populous counties in the state elect to tax themselves to fund more transit?
One answer is that Utahns have a long history of going their own way. In politics, they have never played follow the leader. Nor do they seem willing to embrace today's politically correct fad of "no new taxes all the time, all the issues." Invoking that same simplistic political solution for every problem strikes some here as "cutting off the head to save the patient."
Besides, quality of life issues are too important to be left to the politicians. Utah voters have shown that they understand the need to act, and to act decisively, to arrest traffic congestion, pollution and sprawl, problems that are being ignored in many regions of the country at the peril of future generations.
UTA officials looked to leverage the successful 2000 referendum and the overwhelming public success of TRAX, the downtown light rail system that opened in 1999. With TRAX helping to solve congestion problems in the city core and at the University, UTA could shift its sites to the region's biggest traffic concern. Could UTA find a way to help alleviate major traffic congestion and fossil-fuel pollution coming off the I-15 freeway system? Perhaps it was time to seriously consider a commuter rail line.
Opportunity meets good fortune
Turns out there are two …