The Salt Lake Organizing Committee is seeking $140 million in federal aid for its 2002 Winter Games' spectator transit system.
And that's asking a lot, according to the head of the Federal Transit Administration."That amount far exceeds any level of money provided to any Olympic Games to date, so that raises a lot of questions that will have to be answered by the administration and Congress," FTA Administrator Gordon Linton told the Deseret News this week after a two-day visit to Utah to tour Olympic venues.
"I think the plan they have submitted is a sound plan, operationally, based upon the way the venues are structured and the transportation patterns that will result. . . . The issue at the moment, however, is whether or not funds would be available to the extent they have requested."
Linton said the FTA provided between $18 million and $20 million to organizers of the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta.
SLOC's $140 million plan, Linton said, is a "first tier" operational program that includes only what SLOC deems necessary to put on the Games -- creating park-and-ride lots, transporting and maintaining borrowed buses, paying and managing hundreds of drivers and mechanics, and improving and maintaining facilities needed to keep a fleet of 1,400 buses rolling throughout the Games.
Cindy Gillespie, SLOC vice president for federal relations, said SLOC may be able to provide a top-level public transit system for less than $140 million. It won't know until a more thorough financial analysis is undertaken.
"Step one was to have FTA come tour our venues, review our plan and determine whether our operational plan will work effectively," Gillespie said. "What we'll do (next) is sit down and begin talking with them (FTA) about which pieces make sense for the federal government to fund and what other options we may have."
Of the $140 million, $58 million is for seven temporary park-and-ride lots, some as large as 50 or 60 acres. About $30 million is sought to transport, operate and maintain the 1,400 buses, including wages for personnel.
Linton said he will continue to evaluate the plan.
That first tier of essential transit services includes use of the Utah Transit Authority's north-south light-rail line, now under construction. It does not involve use of the proposed west-east extension. It is part of the second tier -- projects and service levels that would be nice to have but SLOC feels it can live without.
While choosing his words carefully, Linton did not sound optimistic that the entire 10.9-mile west-east line -- or even the core 1.5-mile "downtown circulator" portion of the route -- could be built prior to the Games.
The House of Representatives' version of the fiscal-year 2000 transportation appropriations bill no longer includes language that would allow construction of west-east prior to the Games, not even the 1.5-mile, 400 West/400 South arm. West-east, however, has more support in the Senate. Some money for it could be included in the final version of the bill.
Neither Congress nor the administration appears willing to enact that clause, he noted. And without it, UTA would have to show it can provide 20 percent of the $480 million west-east construction costs, Linton said.
"There are other ways to come up with this (local) match, especially if we reduce the size of the project," UTA General Manager John Inglish said Friday. Inglish said construction of the entire extension from Salt Lake International Airport to the University of Utah must begin by November if it is to be used during the Games. It would help move spectators to the opening and closing ceremonies at Rice-Eccles Stadium and to downtown Olympic events.