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Does UDOT Need The Olympics to Fulfill Its Mountain Accord Dreams?

We’ve drawn our conclusion on who is running the Mountain Accord show — Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT). We’ve also seen the Mountain Accord Blueprint which calls for transportation from I-15 in Sandy… to the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon … up the canyon to Alta… then over to Brighton …through the mountain… and into Park City. UDOT’s Blueprint says the line could be bus or rail. Given a plan as ambitious as the Mountain Accord, we’ll just assume that their ambition is rail. It meets a number of requirements likely needed to seal this deal. What does rail cost? Good question.

Tom Clyde, in last Saturday’s Park Record, calculated that it would cost $1.4 Billion, excluding tunnels, to build a line from Sandy up to PCMR and over to Kimball Junction. He used the price of the airport line recently constructed in Salt Lake ($50 million per mile). That also happened to be the cheapest light rail constructed at the time. Park City Mayor Jack Thomas quoted a price of $66 million per mile. We still think that’s low. Today, due to increasing costs, the average light rail is $100 million per mile. Honolulu is building an elevated light rail at $250 million per mile. Seattle is building an underground light rail at $600 million per mile. So, let’s say our light rail will be 25% more than average at $125 million per mile. Going up and then through a mountain has to be more expensive than average. So, the cost may actually reach $3.5 billion.

In today’s world, “billions” get thrown around a lot; however, that is still a lot of money. UTA (Utah Transit Authority) has an annual budget of $200 million. UDOT has a budget of a little over $1 billion for the entire state. Park City’s budget is about $90 million. Summit County’s budget is about $50 million. $3.5 billion is 17 times UTA’s annual budget, 38 times Park City’s annual budget, 70 times Summit County’s annual budget, and 3 times UDOT’s annual statewide budget. Simply put, the money isn’t there. While it could likely be financed through a series of bonds and tax increases, that would be an expensive way to go.

With that in mind, we were reading a Washington Post article entitled Boston may need the Olympics to fix its problems, which is bad news for all of us. It seems Boston’s subway system is crumbling, the main railway station needs expansion, and there isn’t enough housing. The “solution”… at least to some… is the 2024 Summer Olympics. This leads us to the 2026 Winter Olympics, which Salt Lake City is the front runner for the US bid…if the US Olympic Committee decides to bid. The draw of Salt Lake is that it has much of the required infrastructure. We have a stadium. We have mountain resorts. We have indoor venues. About the only thing we would need is… you guessed it… better transportation.

What better way to get the government to chip in some money? What better way to get Utahns to chip in a chunk of money? Heck, it worked for the Russians. They spent $50 billion on the last Winter Olympics and they did get a train out of it. Perhaps the Mountain Accord members should have gone there… but we digress.

Do we want an olympics? Would the US even bid on the 2026 winter olympics if Boston wins the 2024 Summer Games? Who would profit from an Olympics here? Those are all questions to be answered at some point. However, the question we are wondering is whether the Olympics are part of the grand plan. If not, we don’t really see how this is paid for.


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