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West-east light rail is officially dead in its tracks

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West-east light rail is dead.

The Salt Lake City Council killed it.The council voted 4-3 Thursday to end negotiations with the Utah Transit Authority over a proposed light-rail line from Main Street to the University of Utah.

"When you come down to the reality of it, what is the benefit to the citizens of Salt Lake City?" said Council Chairman Keith Christensen. "It doesn't make sense to continue."

Christensen and fellow council members Tom Rogan, Deeda Seed and Joanne Milner say further negotiations are futile because the proposed line would unfairly impact residences and businesses along the route, would cost Salt Lake residents too much and is the straw that breaks the camel's back as far as projects being rushed to completion before the 2002 Winter Games.

"We have been hit so hard in this city with this 2002 deadline," Milner said. "With Main Street and I-15 reconstruction, we feel like we've been burned a couple of times."

UTA's reaction?

Disbelief.

"This was totally out of the blue," UTA general manager John Inglish said. "To have this done in this fashion is a great shock to us."

Inglish said he wasn't invited to Thursday's council meeting. He may try to get the council to reconsider but didn't sound too hopeful. "The read I'm getting is they're not willing to let us do that."

According to Christensen, that read is correct.

"Don't waste your time calling me," the council chairman said, "because the answer's going to be no."

Mayor Deedee Corradini, however, a staunch supporter of the 2.5-mile line, is "cautiously optimistic" that it can be resurrected.

"This isn't done yet," she said. "I have climbed many mountains before, and gone over many hurdles. . . . Obviously there are concerns, and we're going to try to get those concerns addressed and get a solution. This is an opportunity we have now. It may be 20 years before we have another opportunity like this."

Inglish said the federal government is "very close" to approving an 80 percent funding agreement for the line's anticipated $105 million construction cost, but "after reading about this in the newspapers they'll give it to New Jersey or someplace."

He added that if an agreement can't be salvaged by the end of the year, there's no way the project can be done by the 2002 Winter Games. That, as a practical matter, means UTA would have to start over after the Olympics.

UTA had hoped to build a 10.9-mile, west-east extension from Salt Lake City International Airport to the U., but was unable to secure congressional support for the entire line. As it was, Utah's congressional delegation had to fight to keep alive any portion of the light-rail project funding.

The councilmen voting in the minority -- Bryce Jolley, Roger Thompson and Carlton Christensen -- said that while there are problems, the door shouldn't be shut.

"We shouldn't kill this deal point-blank," Carlton Christensen said. "Clearly we weren't where we wanted to be with this thing, but I didn't want to chloroform it just yet."

Carlton Christensen said he came to the meeting expecting a long, detailed discussion about the technical aspects of the line, but "it was over so quick I hardly had a chance to speak."

Specifically, the majority's concerns include:

Elimination of parking along 400 South and 500 South, making it harder for people to patronize businesses or enter their homes. Inglish said UDOT is flexible on that issue. But UDOT officials could not be reached Friday morning to confirm that. UDOT has insisted on three lanes of traffic each way, while two lanes of traffic would allow parking.

The uncertainty of who would pay for operating costs. The Legislature passed an agreement last session for the first 10 years of operating costs -- they would be shared between UTA, the state and the city -- but it's uncertain who would pay the $2.8 million estimated annual cost afterward. "You know what that means," Keith Christensen said. "We pay for it."

Many, if not most, of the riders would not be Salt Lake City residents and would thus not help in paying for it other than through fares.

The street would have to be widened up to 7 feet in places, further impacting businesses. Inglish said UDOT plans to widen the road even without light rail. But UDOT could not reached early Friday to confirm that.

The timing. "It's just too much all at once," Milner said. "I would love to have it, but after the Olympics."

News of the council's decision came as a welcome surprise to Bryce Zundel, owner of The Bagelry, which location at 905 E. 400 South.

"Wow, that's great. I've been worried about this for months," he said.

He said his store at 264 S. Main closed last year, because of TRAX construction.

"We had been open about 18 months, doing really well, and then light rail hit," he said. "I lost $150,000 when that store closed."

Zundel said if his store on 400 South had met a similar fate, it would have bankrupted his entire enterprise.

"This is great news," he said. "I had given up hope, because I know fighting city hall never works."

Deseret News staff writer Maria Titze contributed to this report.