Utah could get in on money for a statewide commuter rail system

By Ben Winslow, Fox 13 News

This article was published by Fox 13 News on February 2, 2021.

SALT LAKE CITY — A resolution introduced in the Utah State Legislature seeks to prod the state to get in on potentially billions in infrastructure spending for a statewide commuter rail system.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, sponsored by Senate Minority Whip Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, and Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, would push for Utah to pursue options to expand rail through congressional funding.

"There is going to be money coming for infrastructure across the country," Sen. Escamilla said in an interview with FOX 13 on Tuesday. "We should be at the table, being the Crossroads of the West."

The Trump administration pushed for infrastructure spending and the Biden administration is expected to continue that. But Mike Christensen with the Utah Rail Passengers Association, a group that has been lobbying for this, said the state needs to act.

"It's important because we are anticipating for congress to make a part of infrastructure funding available probably sometime in February," he said.

The system envisioned is not like Utah Transit Authority's Frontrunner or TRAX, but more like Amtrak. There is discussion of rail lines from Ogden to Cedar City, or Provo to Green River. Christensen said that's as far as existing rail lines go right now, but buses could get people to the tourism hotspots of St. George and Moab.

"It's relatively quick and simple to get passenger rail on existing tracks, but it's going to take a whole lot more to get rail into new places that don't have it," Christensen said. "Washington County is one of the most populated counties in the nation that doesn't have a rail connection."

Sen. Escamilla said beyond statewide lines, Utah would join surrounding states for regional systems. She argued it would be good for Utah air quality, removing cars from clogged freeways, boosting rural communities and providing travel options.

"It’s really about transportation. We are growing as a state, we need this type of infrastructures in our state," she said.

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