The Utah Transit Authority said Monday it has signed a letter of intent with the federal government to fund 20 percent of the cost to build four new light-rail lines and commuter rail to Provo.

The anticipated funding will total about $500 million of the more than $2 billion cost to build the five rail lines, said Mike Allegra, UTA's chief capital development officer and assistant general manager. Local sales tax dollars from Salt Lake and Utah County residents will fund the remainder.

With the letter in hand, Allegra says his agency can now develop a firm finance plan and schedule the rail lines' construction. The letter will also give contractors more clarity in knowing what projects should be built under state or federal regulations, he said.

UTA general manager John Inglish said the letter of intent, known as a memorandum of understanding, was an unprecedented agreement between a state agency and the Federal Transit Administration. Normally, transit agencies approach the federal government for funding on projects one-by-one, not as a package deal, he said.

Because the letter of intent applies to all five projects, Inglish said his agency will save what would have been years of waiting through a lengthy federal funding process.

"Rather than coming at you project by project by project, we asked them to consider a little faster track," Inglish said.

Under the memorandum of understanding, the federal government said it intends to pay for 80 percent of the cost to build TRAX to Draper and South Jordan. The memorandum also notes that the other three projects, commuter rail to Provo, TRAX to the Salt Lake City International Airport and to West Valley City, will be funded by local dollars.

Salt Lake County residents already pay increased sales taxes to fund the rail lines. Reimbursements from the federal government may not come for several years.

Allegra said UTA plans to begin construction on some of the rail lines next year. Contractors are expected to be selected by the end of the year, and contracts to purchase vehicles and rail will also be finalized by year's end.

During construction of the rail lines, UTA plans to use a new building at 669 W. 200 South as work space for up to 400 engineers. The building, currently being refurbished, is just across from the Salt Lake City Intermodal Hub.