The 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games could not have come at a better time for the Utah Transit Authority. Construction plans for the UTA's light-rail system, TRAX, have been made financially possible by the Games, although building such a line had previously been discussed. The federal government contributed $241 million toward the total cost of $312 million and the UTA raised $71 million through local funding from reserve funds, real estate sales and bonding.
The 15-mile line, which will run from the Delta Center in Salt Lake City to Sandy, is slated to open in November-a few months earlier than the UTA's original March 2000 prediction. Many of the UTA's north-south bus routes in Salt Lake County will be reoriented east and west to serve as feeder routes for the line. An estimated 14,500 daily rail commuters are projected.
Uncle Sam recently approved the west-east light rail line, an 11-mile line that would connect downtown to the airport and the University of Utah. It will be ready for the Olympics, and also connect with a number of Olympic venues.
According to The Salt Lake Tribune, UTA General Manager John Inglish recently traveled to Washington, D.C., for a series of meetings with the Utah congressional delegation and U.S. Department of Transportation officials. He is trying to gather $640 million for Olympic-related transit programs, including $480 million for the west-east light rail. The city has promised to commit $500,000 a year in additional sales-tax revenue to help finance the line.
In addition, President Clinton's budget for fiscal year 2000 includes $25 million in transit funding for the planning, operations, vehicles and facility construction needed for the upcoming Games. Congress' approval is pending.
With the heavy reliance on funding from the federal government, it would seem that the hoopla currently surrounding the games would affect the UTA, at least in terms of obtaining more money. "There's no evidence so far that the scandal has affected us," Inglish says.
He is referring to the bribery scandal surrounding the city's successful bid for the upcoming Olympics. A Salt Lake City ethics commission found 24 International Olympic Committee members took $1.2 million in cash, gifts, Super Bowl trips and other inducements from Utah bidders. Nine IOC members have resigned or been expelled and 13 others remain under investigation.
Light-rail transportation is not the only item on the UTA's agenda, however. Inglish says he is planning to borrow about 1,200 buses from the transit industry-just in time for the Olympics.
UTA also plans to provide other alternatives for visitors during the Games. With the introduction of an automatic vehicle-locating system, passengers will know exactly when to expect their bus at a particular stop, and automated passenger counting capability will provide better information about the transit market. In addition, new farecards will make it easier for passengers to pay fares.