Salt Lake City, Utah/CBD to University LRT

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CBD to University LRT

Salt Lake City, Utah

(November 1999)

(CBD to University LRT Map)


The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) has proposed the implementation and operation of light rail transit (LRT) extending 2.5 miles from the North/South line, in downtown Salt Lake City, to Rice/Eccles Stadium on the University of Utah campus. The proposed University LRT line includes four stations. The University line is scaled back from the previously proposed 10.9-mile West/East line that extended from the airport to the University. Light rail vehicles will operate primarily at-grade on tracks laid in existing city streets and on property owned by Salt Lake City, Utah Department of Transportation, and the University of Utah. UTA estimates ridership at 7,600 boardings per average weekday in 2020. The University LRT is being planned to significantly improve access to jobs, educational opportunities, health care, and housing throughout the 400 South corridor.

The capital cost estimate of the 2.5-mile University LRT line totals $105.8 million (escalated dollars), with annual operating costs projected at $2.6 million ($2002 dollars).

CBD To University Summary Description

Proposed Project Light Rail Line;
2.5 miles, 4 stations
Total Capital Cost ($YOE) $105.8 million
Section 5309 Share ($YOE) $84.6 million
Annual Operating Cost ($2002) $2.6 million
Ridership Forecast (2020) 7,600 average weekday boardings
3,100 daily new riders
FY 2001 Financial Rating: Medium
FY 2001 Project Justification Rating: Medium
FY 2001 Overall Project Rating: Recommended

The Recommended rating is based on the project’s strong cost effectiveness but relatively weak mobility improvements, and the adequacy of the project’s capital and operating plans. The overall project rating applies to this Annual New Starts Report and reflects conditions as of November 1999. 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 10.9 West-East Corridor. FTA approved entry into preliminary engineering on the West-East LRT project in January 1998. The Final Environmental Impact Statement was published in January 1999 and the Record of Decision is

anticipated by the end of 1999. UTA is completing an Environmental Reassessment Report to document two changes to the West/East Light Rail Project: first, the change from side running to center running for a two block section; and second, the initial construction of 2.5 miles of the project.

TEA-21 Section 3030(a)(72) authorizes the Salt Lake City – Light Rail (Airport to the University of Utah) for final design and construction. Through FY 2000, Congress has appropriated $4.96 million in Section 5309 New Starts funds for this project.


The following criteria have been estimated in conformance with FTA's Technical Guidance on Section 5309 New Starts Criteria for the 2.5 mile University corridor.

FTA has evaluated this project as being in preliminary engineering. The project will be re-evaluated when it is ready to advance to final design, and for next year’s Annual Report on New Starts.


The Medium project justification rating reflects the project’s strong cost effectiveness, adequate transit supportive land use, but relatively weak mobility improvements.

Mobility Improvements

Rating: Low-Medium

The 2.5-mile project is expected to serve 7,600 average weekday boardings and 3,100 daily new riders by 2020. UTA estimates the following annual travel time savings.

Mobility Improvements New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Annual Travel Time Savings decrease of 0.2 million hours increase of 0.2 million hours

Based on 1990 data, the UTA estimates that 3,105 low-income households are located within ½ mile of the four proposed stations of the University LRT line. This figure represents 25 percent of all households located within ½ mile of proposed stations.

Environmental Benefits

Rating: Medium

Salt Lake City is designated as a nonattainment area 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 University 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 27 annual tons decrease of 20 annual tons
Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) decrease of 19 annual tons decrease of 19 annual tons
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) decrease of 154 annual tons decrease of 96 annual tons
Particulate Matter (PM10) decrease of 19 annual tons decrease of 12 annual tons
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) decrease of 8,283 annual tons decrease of 6,373 annual tons

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

Annual Energy Savings New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
BTU (millions) decrease of 52,997 million annual BTU decrease of 27,793 million annual BTU

Operating Efficiencies

Rating: Medium

UTA estimates the following systemwide operating costs per passenger mile following implementation of the University LRT:

Operating Efficiencies No-Build TSM New Start
System Operating Cost per Passenger Mile (2020) $0.30 $0.30 $0.30

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Cost Effectiveness

Rating: Medium-High

UTA estimates the following cost effective indices:

Cost Effectiveness New Start vs. No-Build New Start vs. TSM
Incremental Cost per Incremental Passenger $6.00 $9.30

Values reflect 2020 ridership forecast and 1997 dollars.

Transit-Supportive Existing Land Use and Future Patterns

Rating: Medium

The Medium land use rating reflects the high concentration of activities at both ends of the corridor. While the CBD is expected to grow, growth outside of the corridor is forecast to increase at a much higher rate.

Existing Conditions: The 2.5 mile corridor runs on 400 South and 500 South in eastern Salt Lake City. The CBD and the University of Utah, which are major activity generators, anchor the LRT corridor on the west and east, respectively. The two middle stations would serve an active urban-scale commercial corridor surrounded by predominately medium-density residential and mixed-use development. The total population in the LRT corridor is approximately 32,900 and total employment is 86,500 including 13,000 employees of the University of Utah. The University has 25,000 students. CBD employment density is a relatively low 37.5 employees per acre. Although intensification of urban-scale development is expected to occur, projected increases in corridor population are low and projected employment growth, while higher, is roughly half the rate forecast for the metropolitan area overall. The existing North/South LRT line, connecting to the proposed University Line, would link the corridor to higher-intensity activity centers, such as the Delta Center and the Salt Palace Convention Center. Parking is not significantly restricted outside of the CBD and the University area; however, the University has adopted parking management policies which limit parking supply and promote the use of alternative modes. Salt Lake City has reduced parking requirements for new development.

Future Plans and Policies: The Salt Lake City Master Plan recommends a concentration of high-density, mixed use growth in the 400 South/East Downtown corridor and other transit corridors. The Central Community Plan, covering the transit corridor between the CBD and the University, has been updated to permit mixed uses. The city uses zoning as the principal tool to implement transit-supportive land use policies. The performance of land use policies has improved as demonstrated by recent construction in the corridor. Design charettes are being conducted to ensure transit oriented development practices are being applied along the proposed and existing LRT lines.

Growth management initiatives are at an early stage. Although the city’s master plan recommends the concentration of commercial development in the downtown area, no regional growth management policies exist in this high growth region. Natural growth boundaries will ultimately limit metropolitan area sprawl, but will not necessarily produce concentrations of development at a pedestrian-friendly, urban scale. The Envision Utah coalition is working on the development of strategies for the period from 2020 to 2050 addressing growth-related impacts in the six-county Wasatch Front area.

Local Financial Commitment

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

UTA’s financial plan for the University Corridor proposes to use $84.6 million (80 percent) in Section 5309 New Starts funds and $21.5 million (20 percent) in local resources to fund the capital costs of the project.

Stability and Reliability of Capital Financing Plan

Rating: Medium-High

The Medium-High rating reflects the solid financial condition of UTA and stability of its funding source.

Agency Capital Financial Condition: The 0.25 percent sales tax that the UTA assesses on retail sales within the service area serves as the primary local funding source for the agency’s transit projects, including capital and operating costs. For the 1998 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, UTA reported $28 million in cash and cash equivalents, which is the primary source for the University LRT project. In 1998, UTA had a net revenue gain (including depreciation costs) of $10 million and a total of $11 million in retained earnings.

Capital Cost Estimates and Contingencies: A contingency reserve of $9.5 million is included in the total capital cost. No specific escalation factors for the University Line capital cost estimates have been identified.

Existing and Committed Funding: The 0.25 percent sales tax is a stable revenue mechanism that is indexed to inflation, and grows with the economy. UTA has proposed that cash reserves be used to fund a majority of the project’s local match from local sales tax funds saved from the North/South Line. The agency reports savings from the North/South Line in the amount of $43 million (current budget less current obligations).

New and Proposed Sources: UTA is proposing a Cross Border Lease program to fund $2.0 million of the total project cost.

Stability and Reliability of Operating Finance Plan

Rating: Medium

The Medium rating reflects the stability of UTA’s operating revenues but notes concerns about the provision of future bus service.

Agency Operating Condition: UTA maintained a strong financial operating position in 1998. In 1998, UTA received $56.5 million in sales tax revenue; a significant portion of which funded operating costs. The 0.25 percent sales tax is indexed to inflation, making it a stable funding source.

Operating Cost Estimates and Contingencies: Annual operating costs for the 2.5-mile LRT are estimated at $2.6 million in YOE dollars. No documentation on operating cost assumptions, escalation rates, and contingencies was provided by UTA.

Existing and Committed Funding: The existing UTA-levied sales tax revenues cover most of the agency’s current operating costs. Farebox revenues are estimated to cover 25 to 30 percent of the operating costs of the University LRT. The Governor has stated in a letter to FTA that a previous State commitment of $5 million in annual operating guarantees passed by the Legislature for the proposed Airport to University line is equally applicable to the University Corridor.

New and Proposed Sources: Uncertainty exists about when an additional local revenue assessment i.e., higher sales tax rate, will be needed. According to the UTA cash flow analysis, UTA appears to be able to operate the proposed University line, but has to assume no bus service growth in the area through 2012. The cash flow analysis assumes that bus passenger fares will increase at a healthy rate. However, the need to construct or implement new projects and maintain and operate existing and new systems may require an earlier tax increase.

Locally Proposed Financing Plan

(Reported in $YOE)

Proposed Source of Funds Total Funding
Appropriations to Date
Section 5309 New Starts $84.6 $4.96 million appropriated to the West-East LRT through FY 2000
UTA Cash Reserves $19.2


Cross Border Lease $2.0


Total: $105.8

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

University Corridor LRT Map. The project is the implementation and operation of light rail transit (LRT) extending 2.5 miles from the North/South line, in downtown Salt Lake City, to Rice/Eccles Stadium on the University of Utah campus. The proposed University LRT line includes four stations. The University line is scaled back from the previously proposed 10.9-mile West/East line that extended from the airport to the University.