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Cost endangers rebuild of S.L. viaduct

Facing a funding gap of $25 million or more, Salt Lake City could abandon its plan to rebuild the North Temple viaduct if cost-cutting measures are not made.

The city, hindered by falling revenue dollars, has secured just $50 million of the $75 million needed to complete the project, said Ben McAdams, a senior adviser to Mayor Ralph Becker.

The Utah Transit Authority, meanwhile, has already begun construction of its airport TRAX line and needs a decision from the city by late September.

"We're just trying to bridge the gap in a tough economy," McAdams said. "We're seeing where we can cut costs and what we might be able to do to bring the price tag of the bridge down. ... We think if we can narrow the gap to $10 million, there are some creative funding mechanisms we could use."

Salt Lake City received $20 million from the Utah Legislature and $5 million from the Wasatch Front Regional Council to complete the project. UTA has committed $25 million to a new viaduct on North Temple.

Higher-than-anticipated costs, however, have put the project at risk.

"We don't have very good design cost numbers," said Council Chairman Carlton Christensen. "The gap is a variable. We had hoped it would be at $65 million but it could be as high as $85 million, which is not an acceptable number."

Now, engineers are looking for ways to whittle down that number, he said.

Dirt fill could be used in a tunnel just large enough for freight and commuter trains, cutting $10 million off the project's cost, McAdams said.

But city leaders said that is not the preferred option for the tunnel.

"I think you want to be able to connect those two neighborhoods under there," Christensen said, allowing enough room for cars and pedestrians to pass through.

The city could also look to property owners to chip in through a special improvement district. That would only bring in about $5 million, McAdams said.

In either case, "the airport line is not in jeopardy at all," he said.

Should the rebuild fall through, the TRAX line could take an alternate route, snaking its way underneath the existing viaduct at 5 mph.

"It's really not desirable," McAdams said, adding that the city is working hard to make the rebuild a reality. "We'd hate to see this opportunity pass us by."