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MURRAY — The Utah Transit Authority hopes to tap into a multibillion-dollar federal fund to expand the capacity of the FrontRunner commuter rail line.
Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, and Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, have introduced legislation that would make projects like FrontRunner eligible for funding to increase service by installing more miles of double track.
“As Utah’s Wasatch Front population continues to grow, we need transportation solutions that keep up with our growth,” McAdams said Tuesday at the Murray FrontRunner station.
The Transit Revitalization and Infrastructure Needs Act would also expand eligibility for transportation grant funding to electrify transit systems, like FrontRunner, and move away from older, outdated diesel-powered engines.
The $2.3 billion grant program currently provides funding for new transit lines or extending lines, but not for improving existing systems, McAdams said.
“I can imagine that people who don’t want another mouth at the trough may object, not on policy grounds but just on the fact that it creates greater competition for limited funds,” he said. “I think we’ve got a pretty compelling case as to why this should be eligible for funds.”
Running two tracks for the length of the 90-mile line from Provo to Ogden allowing trains to pass each other would increase passenger capacity, cut the times between trains in half, allow the diesel-powered locomotives to up their top speed to 90 mph and reduce pollution from cars, officials say.
The ability to obtain federal grant money would be a “game-changer” for the transit system, said UTA Executive Director Carolyn Gonot. Though FrontRunner is working well, it faces “acute” operational limitations, she said.
Kicking off a news conference with @RideUTA announcing my bill that would increase Frontrunner ridership to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality. Watch it live in my Facebook page. #utpolpic.twitter.com/bsBVOPETyO— Rep. Ben McAdams (@RepBenMcAdams) February 18, 2020
“A delay at one station, for example, can cause a ripple effect of delays down the entire line. Double tracking is essential to a faster, less constrained system with more frequent service, faster service and a system suited to the growth we’re seeing,” she said.
Carlton Christensen, UTA board chairman, said the commuter train, which has about 18,000 boardings daily, has spurred mobility, access and economic development.
“But FrontRunner’s full potential remains limited,” he said. “UTA built FrontRunner with future generations in mind and designed a system that is ready for future enhancements. Now we have the opportunity to take advantage of that foresight.”
Gov. Gary Herbert supports double-tracking as a way for Utah to address ongoing air quality problems. He’s proposing the state spend $34 million a year to begin work on FrontRunner tracks. Utah estimates the project would cost at least $3 billion.
McAdams and Curtis are sponsoring stand-alone legislation but want to see it folded into a broader transportation bill.