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A transportation breakthrough

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Transportation help is on the way for Wasatch Front residents. On Thursday, the Utah Transit Authority and Union Pacific announced a monumental transaction that addresses transportation needs for the 21st century. UTA has purchased from UP 175 miles of railroad right-of-way and properties for future commuter rail, light-rail expansion and a trails system, all for $185 million.

As UTA General Manager John Inglish aptly put it, "What we're putting in place today will be used for transportation purposes for decades as we develop a truly multi-modal system."

The purchase includes the Union Pacific corridor between Payson and Brigham City, which is expected to be used to establish a commuter rail system. Within five years commuter rail could be providing a transportation alternative to the automobile throughout much of the Wasatch Front.

The development of commuter rail is critical in providing for projected growth along the Wasatch Front. According to those projections, the Wasatch Front will triple in size by 2050, going from 1.7 million residents to 5 million. Salt Lake County, which has about 900,000 residents, is expected to increase to 1.4 million residents by 2030.

The TRAX light-rail system also benefits from Thursday's action as tracks traversing Midvale, West Jordan and South Jordan, as well as the Sugar House line from South Salt Lake to southeast Salt Lake City, could be used for light rail.

Due to the success of current TRAX lines, UTA planners believe the ridership for commuter rail could be as much as 20,000 commuters daily in the first year. Originally, only 4,000 commuters were projected to use commuter rail daily.

The experience with TRAX demonstrates that people along the Wasatch Front are willing to leave their cars at home — or at least in a park-and-ride lot — if alternative forms of transportation are convenient.

Convenience is the key to enticing people to leave their vehicles for public transportation, whether it's light rail, commuter rail or buses. Light rail has proved to be so popular and convenient that a number of municipalities are lobbying UTA for service.

Commuter rail, if set up properly, would likely have the same type of success.

UTA and Union Pacific officials merit commendation for culminating years of talks and negotiations with Thursday's announcement.