SALT LAKE CITY — Lengthy TRAX red line and traffic delays near Rice-Eccles Stadium are expected at times over the course of the next few weeks as Utah Transit Authority crews begin work to replace a section of light rail track by the University of Utah campus.
UTA spokesman Carl Arky said the rails are about 20 years old and need to be replaced for safety reasons.
"You've got to maintain the rails to maintain the safety of the system," he said.
Beginning Wednesday, westbound lanes of 500 South will be closed from Guardsman Way to 1500 East as construction begins. Eastbound 500 South will also be narrowed to two lanes from 1200 East to Guardsman Way.
The closures are scheduled to last through Aug. 18, and delays could last as long as 30 to 60 minutes in the area, according to UTA. Arky said anyone traveling to the University of Utah Hospital, Primary Children's Hospital or businesses in the area should be prepared for the delays.
The agency recommends that drivers traveling west turn right at the closure and take South Campus Drive to 1300 East before they turn left and travel on 1300 South until they get back onto 500 South. Drivers can also turn left at the closure and take Guardsman Way to Sunnyside Avenue. From there, they can turn right onto Sunnyside Avenue, and then right onto 1300 East to get back onto 500 South.
#UTACONSTRUCTION: August 4-9 we'll be closing 500 South westbound from Guardsman Way to 1500 East and we'll be narrowing 500 South eastbound traffic to two lanes from 1200 East to Guardsman Way. Drivers near @UUtah should consider alternate routes. https://t.co/JQXi4ke4wRpic.twitter.com/iQmbndcqD8— UTA (@RideUTA) August 2, 2021
UTA officials also advise residents and businesses in the area to expect day and night noise, dust and vibration in the area beginning Wednesday and continuing through Monday.
TRAX riders won't be impacted much until Aug. 12. That's when TRAX trains that would otherwise travel up and down the hill, to and from the University of Utah campus, will start and stop at the 900 East station. A bus will carry riders to the Stadium, University South Campus and University of Utah Hospital stations.
Those who would use the Fort Douglas Station are advised to use the South Campus Station instead because buses won't be able to access the area by the Fort Douglas Station, according to UTA. The TRAX closure is slated to remain in place through Aug. 22.
The agency advises red line riders to expect 15- to 30-minute delays as a result of the construction.
The timing of the construction is intentional, according to Arky. The entire project is expected to be completed just before the first day of classes at the University of Utah, which is Aug. 23. It'll also be completed before the Utah football team's home-opener at Rice-Eccles Stadium against Weber State, scheduled for Sept. 2.
UTA officials expect both TRAX red line ridership and 500 South travel will increase as a result of the new semester beginning. Per the agency's ridership dashboard, systemwide public transit use is still significantly down from pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels but ridership is up from the same time last year. In addition, ridership historically rises at the beginning of a new semester.
The data shows systemwide ridership reached close to 72,500 people in June. That's a 46% drop in ridership from June 2019 but nearly a 34% increase from June 2020. Despite the significant ridership discrepancy, there was a spike in ridership beginning late August in both 2019 and 2020, which UTA officials believe will happen again this year.
"We anticipate there will be a lot more traffic and that our ridership will increase considerably once the University of Utah is back in session," Arky said. "And, of course, we're seeing more and more ridership as it is because people are starting to go back into the office, go back to work. Between those two things, we expect quite a few people and we want to have a system operating and up and running, and doing it in a safe manner as much as possible before the start of the school year."
There aren't any other major maintenance projects in UTA's immediate future, Arky added; however, he said crews regularly conduct maintenance checks to see when a new project may be necessary.
He said transit users, motorists and residents alike should review the closure timeline and other information about the project, which can be found on UTA's website, before traveling to and from the university over the next few weeks.