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The handwriting is on the wall for light rail.

The message is that the potential future of this way of easing traffic congestion is starting to look better not only in Salt Lake County but also elsewhere across the country.That much seems clear from the breakthrough achieved in Washington, D.C., this week when Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, pledged support for 80 percent federal funding for the proposed 15-mile commuter line from Sandy to downtown Salt Lake City.

And it seems clear from the progress being made by light-rail projects in various other states. Consider the following report this week from American News Service:

"Mass transit, once an option mainly in cities on both coasts, is coming to mid-America in the form of light rail . . . .

"One recent success story is St. Louis's Metro Link. It was projected to carry about 12,000 riders a day when the system opened three years ago. But ridership on the 18-mile network has hit three times that . . . .

"Other cities are discovering the virtues of light rail. Dallas is scheduled to open the first 20 miles of a 53-mile light-rail system in June. The 16th Street Transit Mall in downtown Denver . . . has proved to be an economic booster, as has the Main Street Trolley in Memphis. It generated more development activity in the last nine months of 1993 than the city had seen in the previous three years."

Then consider the continuing traffic trends that make it increasingly necessary to find other ways of getting around besides the private passenger car:

- The costs of traffic congestion have risen to $168 billion annually, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The DOT estimates traffic delays will increase fourfold in the next four years.

- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that 55 percent of the cancer linked to air pollution can be directly traced to road vehicles.

- The nation spends nearly $200 million a day building and rebuilding roads, including construction of new freeways.

- In the average American's budget, $1 of every $5 goes toward the cost of driving a car.

The point should be clear: By pursuing light rail, Salt Lake County is not taking a leap into the unknown but is simply following where more and more communities have successfully trod. The sooner Utahns get going on this alternate form of transportation, the less it will cost.