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Transit measures approved

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UTA unveils its new commuter rail car this past Oct. 6. Voters approved extension of commuter rail.

UTA unveils its new commuter rail car this past Oct. 6. Voters approved extension of commuter rail.

Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News

Commuter rail from Pleasant View to Provo. New TRAX lines for west-side commuters. Busy roads, widened and improved.

By 2015, residents of Salt Lake and Utah counties could see those options built or under construction. On Tuesday, voters in both counties approved a quarter-cent sales-tax hike that could fund a doubling of the Salt Lake Valley's commuter-rail and light-rail system and fund general road improvements.

In Salt Lake County, the tax hike was known as Proposition 3. It will cost residents an average of $104 a year. In Utah County, the increase was called Opinion Question. It will cost residents about $96 a year.

With 98 percent of the vote counted, Proposition 3 was passing 64 percent to 36 percent. The Opinion Question passed, 69 percent to 31 percent, with 100 percent of the vote counted.

"This is just an extraordinary milestone event for the future of our community," UTA general manager John Inglish said Tuesday. "The public put a lot of faith in us."

During a gathering Tuesday night in Salt Lake City, Inglish, along with business leaders, transit supporters and elected officials from both counties, were relaxed and jovial. By as early as 9 p.m., the group was celebrating victory.

Lane Beattie, president of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, said that the tax increases will allow Utah to compete with Western cities like Denver for business opportunities. "This is very good news for Utah," he said.

Unlike a typical ballot proposition, the Opinion Question and Proposition 3 had no organized opposition. Support came from a broad-based coalition, including environmental activists and elected officials. The Salt Lake Chamber raised more than $700,000 from out-of-state contractors and local developers to promote the two tax hikes.

Jim Bennett ran the campaign in support of the propositions. He said that his biggest challenge was to educate residents about what it meant if they approved the propositions.

"It was shock and awe to some degree," Bennett said about the campaign. "We had a very short time frame and had to get as much (information) out as we could."

In Utah County, 87 percent of the tax money will go to build commuter rail. About 8 percent will go to highway construction, while the remaining 5 percent will fund other transit projects, such as bus rapid transit.

In Salt Lake County, at least one-quarter of the tax increase must go to fund preservation of routes for future roads. Mayors and members of the County Council will decide where the rest of the money goes. Projects have not yet been identified because state lawmakers must approve a process for picking them.

The Legislature's Executive Appropriations Committee is scheduled to meet next Tuesday to debate about the process.

UTA spokesman Justin Jones said Tuesday that depending on how much money his agency receives, work could begin on four TRAX extensions in Salt Lake County as early as next year. Commuter rail construction could begin in 2009, he said.

Still, Riverton resident Dan Canfield said Tuesday that he and his wife voted against Proposition 3. "I think we don't know enough about what they want us to spend our money on," he said.

E-mail: nwarburton@desnews.com