Imagine a light rail service that runs on I-80 from Summit Park towards Park City. It continues to Kimball Junction where there is a transit center. Then it continues in two directions, one heads out on I-80 and then highway 40 by the Home Depot. The other cruises in on 224, past Snyderville and the Canyons resort. Both eventually end up at a transit center in Park City. There would likely be stops every few miles at the Jeremy Ranch Park and Ride, Kimball Junction, Snyderville, the entrance to Canyons, the white barn, PCMR, and Main Street. Coming from the Highway 40 direction, there would be stops by the Bell’s Gas station, Home Depot, the hospital, Park City High School, Bonanza Park, and Main Street.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? Does it? I only ask, because now is the time to start thinking about it. As we enter the winter season, and approach that fateful time of year when Carmageddon is lurking around every corner, our elected officials are going to press forward with plans to “fix” our traffic problems. One of the ideas being considered is light rail and it is up to us citizens to decide whether its something we will really use. One of the knocks against light rail is that everyone says they love it, but once it’s built, many of the people who say they loved it, never use it. That’s because they love the idea for other people, because it would free the roads up for them to drive on with less traffic. The problem is that if not enough people actually use it, it’s a waste of money and effort.
So, would you ride light rail around town instead of drive? Before you answer, let me provide some other facts that may help:
- Most light rail cars look similar. If you’ve seen TRAX in SLC, then you know what they look like. Also, it’s important to keep in mind that most light rail operates off of overhead electric wires. So, when you are visualizing what this may look like, keep that in mind.
- The distance from Summit Park to Kimball Junction is about 5 miles. The distance from Kimball Junction to Main Street is about 6 miles. So a complete run from Summit Park to Main Street is about 11 miles.
- The distance from Kimball Junction to Main street via Highway 40 is about 9 miles. This service would likely need to be built in the next few years, to serve the new Silver Creek Village, Trailside, and Park City Heights areas.
- New light rail systems travel at about 17 miles per hour (without stops in good conditions). So a trip by rail from Kimball Junction to Main Street would take at about 22 minutes of travel time. Factor in times for stops and you are looking at about 25-30 minutes on the train. A car takes about 15 minutes from Kimball Junction to Main Street (when there is not traffic).
- If we look at what is probably a similar project, the Tide Light Rail in Norfolk, Virginia, offers 7.2 miles of service and runs every 10 to 30 minutes depending on time of day. So, we should expect similar waiting times for our trains.
- The Tide Light rail cost $43 million per mile to build in 2007. So, at the same costs, we are looking at about $470 million for the Summit Park to Main Street line. The Highway 40 line (from Kimball Junction to Main street via Highway 40) would be about $387 million. So, a total project would run about $850 million (or more if prices have gone up).
- The Tide light rail costs about $6.2 million to operate every year (or $880,000 per mile). So, our operating costs could be about $17.6 million per year. For reference the Park City budget is about $100 million per year and the Summit County budget is about $60 million. Not that operating costs would come directly from our local budgets, but it would represent about 10-11% of the combined budget to run every year. That said, it is likely bus use would decrease, so some of the increased costs would be countered by decreases in busing.
- The Tide costs $1.75 each way to ride. I’m not sure if Park City would continue with the free service process like they do for buses or whether they would feel the need to charge.
To be fair, these stats are just estimates thrown on a page. When the wheel hits the track it could be different, but this should serve at least as a swag to better understand what rail may look like.
So, what does that all mean? Let’s combine the above information and see what a trip might look like. If you lived in Pinebrook and wanted to go to PCMR, you would likely drive to the Jeremy Ranch park and ride (or something similar) at about 8AM. You’d probably wait about 5-15 minutes for the train, depending on how tightly you wanted to play it. You’d probably have about a 40 minute train ride. You’d probably be dropped off by Fresh Market in Park City at about 8:50. You’d hike the distance to PCMR. It may cost nothing to ride or it could cost about $4 to ride round trip (is the Tide model was used).
So, would that be better than a car? On Carmageddon days and when parking is full at PCMR, I’m sure it would. What about other times? Would it be good enough to use every day? Would you take it to the store to get groceries? Would you ride it to work? Would your high schooler ride it to school? Would you take it to the various concerts around town in the summer. Would you do those things consistently. Most importantly, is your schedule flexible enough that train could always be an option?
If you can envision you and your family actually riding the rail every day, and your friends could envision themselves riding every day, and your co-workers could envision themselves riding every day, then rail may be a good solution for Park City. Typically when rail is embraced by the populace and is actually used it can be a very good thing for a community.
Of course, if you think you may ride it a couple of times a winter, and you think your friends and coworkers might do the same, $850 million is a lot of money.
That is ultimately the decision that we as citizens need to make. Our city, county, and state are going to start running with solutions soon. Sometimes they don’t stop to consider whether the brilliant idea that they have come up with will actually be used. So, I would encourage you to think a little bit about rail this winter season. Imagine yourself taking it to the slopes. Imagine taking it to work. Imagine driving to the Park and Ride and waiting for it. Imagine speeding past that traffic jam you are sitting in.
Then when your government asks “if they build it, will you come?”… you can give them an honest answer.