LEHI — A large group of citizens and public officials turned out Tuesday afternoon for a groundbreaking ceremony for the FrontRunner South commuter rail line.
The ceremony was held at 3100 N. Garden Drive, near Thanksgiving Point, which will be the site of the future Lehi Station and park-and-ride facility.
In 2006 Utah County residents voted to increase their sales tax by a quarter-cent in order to accelerate the work, which was originally in the Wasatch Front Regional Council's 2030 plan.
James Simpson, administrator for the Federal Transit Administration, was on hand and spent his morning riding the FrontRunner North and looking at other projects planned by UTA before he explained to the crowd in Lehi why it is not common for him to attend a groundbreaking like this.
In normal circumstances, a groundbreaking would only take place after funding was in place from the federal government. But when UTA told the FTA more than a year ago that they wanted to do five different projects, nearly all at the same time in order to be more efficient, people in Washington were excited about progressive thinking on a local level.
"We believe in it. I will tell you why," said Simpson. "One thing the Bush administration is known for is entrepreneurialism and thinking outside of the box. You can't go to the federal government to find the answers, you have to find the answers locally, and Utah does that."
While Simpson didn't have a check ready from the FTA on Tuesday, he said they will be back and are impressed with the way the state and UTA work together in planning projects for the future.
"Most of you only know what goes on in the Salt Lake City region and you don't have a way to compare," Simpson said. "We go around the country and if we were going to grade this like in school, Salt Lake City gets an A+ and the norm is a C to a D. So you really have a tremendous team here."
Tuesday's groundbreaking marks the beginning of a two- to three-year process of bringing the commuter rail from Salt Lake City to Provo. The new 44-mile line will have eight stops, currently planned in Salt Lake City, Murray, Sandy/South Jordan, Draper/Bluffdale, Lehi, American Fork, Orem and Provo.
FrontRunner South is part of the Front Lines 2015 project, which also includes the Mid-Jordan and West Valley TRAX lines currently under construction, as well as the Draper and Airport TRAX lines, which will break ground within the next year.
Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, and Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert were both in attendance at the event and each spoke of the importance of commuter rail in helping address the congestion that continues to grow across the Wasatch Front.
UTA General Manager John Inglish said that FrontRunner North has been extremely successful thus far. They are currently 25 percent ahead of their projections, and that's before an expected increase in ridership as school starts this fall. As UTA begins construction on their 2015 projects, Inglish stressed the importance of meeting budget and time goals as they have in the past.
"That is the way we do it, that is our trademark," he said. "We are able to get the kind of support (we have today) because we have lived by that. No matter what, it is ahead of schedule and under budget. We have found that that makes friends of people in Washington."