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Salt Lake City seeks federal funds for Sugar House streetcar

A Sugar House streetcar line could get rolling soon with some federal help.

Salt Lake City leaders hope to land a chunk of the $1.5 billion Transit Initiatives to Generate Economic Recovery fund to help pay for the project and get the streetcar line up and running earlier than officials originally had anticipated.

In vying for a $35 million slice of the TIGER grant, Salt Lake City leaders know they'll be up against stiff competition from other cities and projects.

"Just in terms of odds, our chances are very low," said Redevelopment Agency director D.J. Baxter. "(But) I think there are some characteristics of the project itself that make it more competitive. One is the sheer price. It probably will be one of the least expensive, if not the least expensive, rail-transit projects requesting funds."

The Obama administration plans to fund at least one streetcar project with the grant, Baxter said. TIGER grants will also pay to fund road and port projects.

Baxter said the Sugar House project would be in "competition with five or six" streetcar projects around the country.

"There are only a handful of streetcar projects around the country that are at this stage of development," Baxter said. "They're far enough along that they've done some initial work and … could meet the construction deadline."

The $35 million grant required up to a $2.5 million match from both Salt Lake City and South Salt Lake. Salt Lake City pledged that amount Tuesday night.

"I know that the money we will commit to this project will be returned many, many times, in many ways," said Councilman JT Martin. "I think it's a very good, sound business decision. Of all the things we've done in Sugar House, this is going to be the No. 1 item that will move it forward and make Sugar House something that we're all proud of."

If the city were successful in securing TIGER money, construction would start next summer to beat a 2012 deadline, Baxter said.

If not, the project could be pushed back 18 months or more, when another round of federal funding is expected to open up.

The $46 million streetcar project is planned to run from the TRAX station at 2100 South to McClelland Street in Sugar House. Officials say the light-rail line will help reduce car traffic while bringing new life to the area.

Grants are expected to be awarded in January.

e-mail: afalk@desnews.com