SOUTH SALT LAKE — City and county officials ceremoniously broke ground Monday on an $5.9 million expansion project that aims to cut wait times for the Utah Transit Authority's S-Line.
"This project will result in decreased wait times for the streetcars by 25 percent, or five minutes," Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said. "Might not sound like a lot but when you're waiting for the train to get to work, that makes a big difference."
The S-Line, open since 2013, has provided a single-track streetcar path between South Salt Lake and the Sugar House area. The new project adds nearly $6 million to the S-Line's original $37 million price tag.
Salt Lake County recently approved $4.5 million for the new double track, which will extend the established passing track by two blocks, from 500 East to 300 East.
Currently, a new streetcar will arrive every 20 minutes along the seven-stop S-Line. UTA expects to cut five minutes off that time without adding any more streetcars. The line currently uses two streetcars.
McAdams broke ground with South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood, Utah State Sen. Gene Davis and other local leaders Monday morning, kicking off the construction project that is expected to finish in December.
The increased growth in the area, and the growing popularity of the S-Line, prompted city and county officials to start such a development.
About 40,000 people use the S-Line in a given month, and that number is slowly but steadily increasing, according to Steve Meyer, UTA interim executive director.
"It's growing because of projects like this," Meyer said.
Meyer, an engineer, stepped into the position after UTA President and CEO Jerry Benson's termination in April.
Once the UTA adds the double track, Meyer expects to see a boost of ridership on the S-Line, drawing prospective commuters who may have held back relying on the streetcars due to the current headway time.
"When you get to 15 minutes and below you don't really have to think about your schedule," Meyer said. "When you walk out to the track's line, you know there's going to be a train there. If I just missed it, there's going to be another one in 15 minutes."
Mark Isaac, a principal with Pinyon8 Consulting, has worked on five different developments along the S-Line since 2012. Recently, he is working on the new Shopko site in Sugar House, adding residential and office space. He has also provided consultation for the The Zeller apartment building, which is built right in front of Monday's groundbreaking site.
"We are changing the way people live along the Wasatch Front. We used to be a big commuter city," Issac said. "… That's all occurring because the state, the county and the locals invested in the infrastructure first. And now the developers, the money behind the development, are betting on and investing on the capacity to move people and change the way people live."
According to Isaac, that is a bet to make. He said seven residential projects are being built along the S-Line corridor.
"That's just the start," Isaac said.
Isaac said air quality improvements were also on his mind for the project, an opinion shared with the Wasatch Front Regional Council.
"When you get to 15 minutes and below you don't really have to think about your schedule. When you walk out to the track's line, you know there's going to be a train there. If I just missed it, there's going to be another one in 15 minutes."
The council provided $1.9 million for the expansion project out of a fund that is specifically meant for air quality improvement. The group is an association of governments with elected officials from Box Elder, Davis, Morgan, Salt Lake, Tooele and Weber counties.
"Providing transportation choices to residents in this area, and connecting with the rest of the region's transportation system, will help improve our air quality," said Executive Director Andrew Gruber, "by giving people a choice to take transit, or to bike, or to walk, or maybe if they want to, leaving that car at home."
Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski also announced Monday the start of the city’s road construction season. Ten projects, with a combined investment of $5.5 million, are scheduled to "upgrade underground utility lines and roadway safety features and replace obsolete pavements," according to city's announcement.
Gladiola Street will undergo the most substantial facelift, according to Mike Reberg, director of Salt Lake City's Department of Community and Neighborhoods. Four blocks along the avenue will be receiving concrete, costing $3.9 million.
“These projects will help us maintain a road network that is safe and sound for years to come,” Matt Cassel, the city engineer, said in a press release. “While we realize construction delays and detours will be an inconvenience for travelers, we are committed to working safely and expediently to get in, get out and stay out once we get the job done.”