Salt Lake City, Utah/Downtown Connector

View printer friendly version

Downtown Connector

Salt Lake City, Utah

(November 1998)


The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) has proposed the implementation and operation of light rail transit (LRT) along a 10.9 mile corridor extending from the Salt Lake City International Airport (SLCIA) east through downtown Salt Lake City and terminating at the University of Utah. Initially, the UTA will construct an approximately one mile LRT segment which will complete the connection between the UTA’s North South LRT line (currently under construction) and several destinations in downtown Salt Lake City, including the planned Salt Lake City Gateway Intermodal Terminal and related development in the Gateway District of the CBD.

Preliminary capital cost estimates for the Downtown Connector total $74.8 million (escalated dollars), with annual operating costs estimated at $400,000. The total capital cost estimate of the 10.9 mile West-East LRT line equals $492.0 million (escalated dollars), with annual operating costs projected at $8.0 million (escalated dollars). UTA’s preliminary estimates for daily ridership on the Downtown Connector is 2,500 passengers. Ridership is estimated at 16,939 riders per day in 2020 on the entire 10.9 mile West-East LRT line.

Downtown Connector Summary Description

Proposed Project Light Rail Line;
1.0 mile Downtown Connector;
(Ratings on 10.9 mile West-East light rail line)
Total Capital Cost ($YOE) $74.8 million
Section 5309 Share ($YOE) $59.8 million
Annual Operating Cost ($YOE) $0.4 million
Ridership Forecast (2020) 2,500 daily boardings
FY 2000 Financial Rating: Low
FY 2000 Project Justification Rating: Medium
FY 2000 Overall Project Rating: Not Recommended

The overall project rating applies to this Annual New Starts Report and reflects conditions as of November 1998. Project evaluation is an ongoing process. As new starts projects proceed through development, the estimates of costs, benefits, and impacts are refined. The FTA ratings and recommendations will be updated annually to reflect new information, changing conditions, and refined financing plans.


The Wasatch Front Regional Council (WFRC) completed a Major Investment Study and Draft Environmental Impact Statement in July 1997 on the West-East Corridor. FTA approved entry into preliminary engineering on the 10.9 mile West-East LRT in January 1998. The Final Environmental Impact Statement on the project will be published in early 1999, with a Record of Decision anticipated shortly thereafter.

TEA-21 Section 3030(a)(72) authorizes the Salt Lake City – Light Rail (Airport to the University of Utah) for final design and construction. Section 3030(c)(2)(B) authorizes $640 million in non-guaranteed Section 5309New Starts funding for several projects supporting the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games, including the Airport to University of Utah Light Rail. Section 1223 authorizes the provision of assistance to States and local governments in carrying out transportation projects relating to the Olympic Games. Through FY 1999, Congress has appropriated $5.0 million in Section 5309 New Starts funds for the West-East LRT project.


The following criteria have been estimated in conformance with FTA's Technical Guidance on Section 5309 New Starts Criteria for the entire 10.9-mile West-East corridor. FTA’s evaluations and ratings apply to the full 10.9-mile corridor. The UTA does not yet have specific New Starts criteria for the Downtown Connector.

Mobility Improvements

Rating: Low-Medium

The UTA estimates the following changes in travel time. Note that the West-East LRT line demonstrates a travel time savings compared with the No-Build alternative, and results in a travel time increase compared with the TSM alternative.

Mobility Improvements New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Annual Travel Time Savings decrease of 0.5 million hours increase of 0.3 million hours

Based on the 1990 US Census, the UTA estimates that 4,540 low-income households are located within ½ mile of the proposed 15 stations of the West-East LRT line. This figure represents 27.3 percent of all households located within ½ mile of proposed stations.

Environmental Benefits

Rating: High

Salt Lake City is designated as nonattainment for carbon monoxide and PM10, and Salt Lake and Davis Counties are designated as maintenance areas for ozone. The UTA estimates the following annual emissions reductions between the West-East LRT line and the TSM and No-Build alternatives.

Criteria Pollutant New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Carbon Monoxide (CO) decrease of 51 annual tons decrease of 31 annual tons
Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) decrease of 37 annual tons decrease of 22 annual tons
Hydrocarbons (HC) decrease of 303 annual tons decrease of 166 annual tons
Particulate Matter (PM10) decrease of 38 annual tons decrease of 21 annual tons
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) decrease of 16,719 annual tons decrease of 18,688 annual tons

The UTA estimates the following savings in regional energy consumption (measured in British Thermal Units – BTU) for the West-East LRT.

Annual Energy Savings New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
BTU (millions) decrease of 163,768 million annual BTU decrease of 188,761 million annual BTU

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Medium

UTA estimates the following systemwide operating costs per passenger mile following implementation of the West-East LRT:

Operating Efficiencies No-Build TSM New Start
System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile (2020) $0.26 $0.26 $0.26

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: Low-Medium

The UTA estimates the following cost effectiveness indices for the West-East LRT compared to the No-Build and TSM alternatives.

Cost Effectiveness New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger $9.95 $16.81

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: Low-Medium

The Low-Medium Land Use rating reflects the entire 10.9 mile West-East LRT, and is based on the low densities found in the West of the corridor and the lack of strong transit-supportive and managed growth policies regionwide. The West-East corridor connects three major employment centers: the airport, the CBD, and the University of Utah. Development between the airport and downtown is generally low in density, and intensifies towards the CBD. East of downtown and towards the University is primarily medium density residential and commercial development. The Downtown Connector will serve the Salt Lake City CBD, which contains approximately 50,000 jobs, or 13% of regional employment. The City is pursuing higher density development downtown, most notably with the mixed-use Gateway District development on the western edge of the CBD. In addition, the City has adopted parking policies to reduce parking requirements downtown and encourage shared parking. The region has begun examining growth management strategies, but no policies have yet to be adopted. The majority of future employment and residential growth in the region is forecast to occur outside of Salt Lake City.

Other Factors

2002 Olympic Games: The East-West corridor Downtown Connector is proposed to be completed prior to the 2002 Olympic Games, and will serve to improve mobility and access to downtown events and to the North-South LRT line. The plan for the Olympics is that all ticket holders will travel to venues and events by transit.

Local Financial Commitment

Proposed Non-Section 5309 Share of Total Project Costs: 20%

Preliminary financial estimates for the Downtown Connector propose to use $59.8 million (80 percent) in Section 5309 New Starts funds and $15 million (20 percent) in local resources to fund the capital costs of the project.

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: Low

The Low capital plan rating reflects the 10.9 mile West-East LRT line, and is based on the lack of local financial commitment to constructing the project. The UTA is currently developing a financial plan for the Downtown Connector project. UTA proposes that the $15 million local match for the Downtown Connector would be provided through a combination of leveraged lease funds, bonding, local cash reserves, and sale of excess UTA property.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: Low

The Low operating plan rating reflects the 10.9 mile West-East LRT, and is based on the lack of a committed revenue source for operating the line. The UTA estimates annual operation and maintenance costs for the Downtown Connector at $400,000. UTA believes that these costs can be absorbed within the current UTA revenue stream. UTA receives a dedicated ¼ percent sales tax to support transit operations.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $YOE)

Proposed Source of Funds Total Funding
Appropriations to Date
Federal: Section 5309 New Start $59.8 $4.96 million appropriated to the West-East LRT through FY 1999
State/Local: $15.0


Total: $74.8

Note: Funding proposal reflects assumptions made by project sponsors, and are not DOT or FTA assumptions. Totals may not add due to rounding.

[Downtown Connector Map (PDF)]