VINEYARD — Leaders of Vineyard and surrounding communities gathered with Utah transportation leaders Thursday at an empty lot in the center of the city.
While there wasn't much to see there, that won't be the story for much longer.
"If you know anything about Vineyard and our 10,000% growth rate, you might drive here next week and see some roads, and then a promenade, and then a building and bunch of new faces that we'll be welcoming into this community," said Vineyard Mayor Julie Fullmer.
Yes, much like the community itself, seemingly overnight that empty lot will become a transit hub at the center of a fast-growing city on the shore of Utah Lake.
The groundbreaking ceremony marked the birth of a new $5.6 million FrontRunner station that will add a new stop on the train service between Utah Transit Authority's American Fork and Orem stations.
The new station, which is expected to be finished by the end of this year, will be the first stop added since 2012 — when UTA expanded FrontRunner service south from Salt Lake City all the way down to Provo.
"As Utah prepares for continued record growth, the new Vineyard station is going to create new transit and opportunities for Utah County, improving connections to our other services and many needs of a rapidly growing community," Carlton Christensen, chair of the UTA Board of Trustees, said while standing in of a FrontRunner locomotive stopped on the railroad line adjacent to the plot of land.
Perhaps no one was thrilled with the new station and transit spot more than Fullmer, who pointed out that Thursday's event was several years in the making.
The Utah Legislature allotted $4 million for the project in 2018, but then other issues came up mostly tied to mandatory double-tracking for safety reasons. Three years later, the additional funding needed came together. The Legislature approved $1.6 million toward the new station during the 2021 legislative session. UTA is contributing $16.9 million to cover the cost of the double-tracking.
So in addition to the first FrontRunner station in nearly a decade, crews will also lay down nearly 2 miles of double-tracking north of the new Vineyard station.
UTA officials said it will also help reduce delays for the train service. In addition to the station, Thursday marked the beginning of some of the double-tracking coming to FrontRunner in the coming years.
That's something that Fullmer was also excited about.
"It's setting the stage for high-speed transit options that's really going to change the way that traffic works in this state (and) in the Wasatch Front region," she said.
Of course, the project will also open the door for transit in Vineyard, where options remain light for now. Other plans for the surrounding area of the station include a Utah Valley University Vineyard campus from land located to the south and east of the new station site.
That's on top of new homes and businesses expected to be built on the massive vacant land on the northern end of the city. The new station is just the latest project for a city that now needs it.
While the U.S. Census Bureau won't release more detailed 2020 Census information until later this year, Vineyard seems to be the front-runner for the fast-growing community in the U.S. from 2010 to 2020. That's because the rapidly growing community had an official count of just 139 residents in 2010, and the bureau estimated its population grew to 11,866 by 2019, which would be an 8,437% increase in just nine years. It was over a 10,000% increase based on the 2010 population estimate.
In fact, when the bureau released its 2019 city and town population estimates, it singled out Vineyard as the fastest-growing community across the U.S. among areas with at least 1,000 residents.
And that was just the estimate as of early 2019.
Other places within Utah County are also rising quickly and population, and that's another reason why the project matters.
"It's really a story about the growth that's going to happen in Utah County and making sure we're prepared for that," said House Majority Assistant Whip Val Peterson, R-Orem.
While the Vineyard station will be the first station since FrontRunner service came to Utah County, it's not expected to be the last expansion for the service. UTA is also expecting to expand service as far south as Payson in the coming years. Officials said Thursday there was "momentum" on that extension and they hoped it would move more quickly than it did to finalize the new Vineyard station.