Today marks the tenth anniversary of the Salt Lake-Sandy line of Trax and it is interesting what a difference a decade makes.
This time ten years ago, the average price for a gallon of gas in the US was $1.46, adjusted for inflation and you are looking at $1.94 in today’s dollars. At the time people naysayed the high price of a round trip ticket at $2.00 that would only succeed at going from one mall to the next. Today a $4.00 round trip ticket means you don’t have to hassle with parking downtown while the price of gas makes mass transit far more appealing. Furthermore, cities across the Wasatch Front now clamor for lines in their neighborhoods and the system is only scheduled to grow.
In short, Trax is a case study in smart planning and successful public works projects. The system carries an average of 11 million people a year with daily ridership hovering around 40-50,000. Assuming these are all round trips, that is 20-25,000 cars not on the road, allowing our freeways to last longer for those of us who can’t yet use the system to meet their needs. These same “non-cars” also improve our lackluster air quality…just imagine what our inversions would be like with that much more smog being pumped into the air daily.
And then there is the economic impact. As you go up and down the transit corridor, it is plain to see transit oriented housing and businesses springing up everywhere. Sandy, South Salt Lake, and Murray have seen dramatic growth around their stations as people learn to live, work, and play around rails.
Those who tend to poo-poo mass transit often forget these subtle, but long term, benefits. True, the $312 million (nearly $400 million in today’s dollars) investment was a tough pill to swallow, however the overall improvements to our infrastructure and health speak for themselves.
The simple fact of the matter is that mass transit needs to become more and more a part of our everyday life. It has been less than 65 years since trolley cars crisscrossed the city, only to be replaced by then cheaper cars. Now it is safe to say that the cost of oil will only rise over the years and make motorized transport much more expensive. By investing now, we are reducing the impact of a world with $5,6,7, even $10 a gallon gas.
So happy birthday Trax, I recall the first time I used you that cold December afternoon and I will be revisiting you tonight as I board at Murray Central and head Downtown to enjoy the symphony, sushi with friends, and the lights.