Construction of a $225 million light-rail mass transit system would help alleviate congestion on I-15. But it won't solve the problem, said Gene Findlay, executive director of the Department of Transportation.
"Light rail will not be significant enough to preclude construction of new lanes on I-15," he said.Findlay's comments came Wednesday during a caucus of House Republicans and Democrats in which UDOT's long-range transportation plans were explained.
Among those needs is the expansion, improvements and renovation of the I-15 corridor in Salt Lake County. Plans call for two new lanes of traffic in each direction, two new interchanges and seven improved interchanges, all totaling $428 million.
Federal funding - which would require a state match - could be available by 1992, Findlay said.
John Pingree, executive director of the Utah Transit Authority, also addressed the caucus to defend light rail as a "unique window of opportunity" in terms of federal funding.
Federal funding for such proj-ects runs out by 1991. Up to 50 percent of the $225 million price tag would still be paid by state and local government, which has lawmakers concerned about suggestions of a quarter-cent increase in the sales tax or an increase in the gasoline tax.
Pingree also responded to lawmaker concerns about whether light rail was really needed and whether it would be used if built.
"Where they have put in light rail, it is being used," he said. "If only 10 percent of those now taking cars would use the light rail, it would be a phenomenal success."
Pingree said the light-rail system would probably return about 40 percent of its operating costs, compared with a 20 percent return on UTA buses.
Both Pingree and Findlay said if nothing is done, Utahns could expect rush-hour congestion from about 6:30 a.m. non-stop through about 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday by the year 2010.
Even with four new lanes of I-15 and light rail, Utah will need the West Valley Highway and another highway at 54th West to meet traffic traffic demands by the year 2010.