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Salt Lake City hopes a federal grant will help mend an east-west transportation divide

Interstate 15, and the north-south railroad tracks, form an obstacle that splits Salt Lake City on an east-west line when it comes to transportation access.
Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Interstate 15, and the north-south railroad tracks, form an obstacle that splits Salt Lake City on an east-west line when it comes to transportation access.

Salt Lake City’s office of transportation is applying for a federal grant that would study infrastructure solutions for east and westside transit connection issues. It’s a part of the $1.5 billion in grant funding through the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity program.

The physical barrier of I-15 and the railroad cause many issues with accessibility on the westside of Salt Lake City. There are limited bus routes, delayed wait times, and a lack of pedestrian and bike-friendly lanes. The 3-year study would look at these aspects, particularly for people walking, biking, or taking public transit.

Jon Larsen, director of the transportation division at Salt Lake City, said it could allow them to explore potential solutions to mend the divide.

This includes looking at the feasibility of options like the Rio Grande Plan — a plan to relocate all the railroad tracks to an underground structure called a “train box” and use the Rio Grande Depot as a transportation hub.

“The divide is very real, and it's something that, frankly, I'll probably spend the rest of my career [looking at],” he said. “Twenty years from now, we'll still be working on healing this divide. And making these connections possible so that every one of our residents have access to all of the opportunities that Salt Lake City has to offer.”

Melanie Pehrson-Noyce, who lives in Poplar Grove and serves on its community council, said a lot of the industrial workers on the westside — who don’t have a reliable form of transportation — are left to deal with these access issues.

According to a 2020 westside transportation equity study, neighborhoods like Glendale and Poplar Grove have “the lowest share of no vehicle households on the westside.”

“It's the frustrations that come to the forefront,” Pehrson-Noyce said. “It takes literally five times, six times longer on the bus than it does to just hop in the car and go. And it shouldn't be that way.”

She also pointed to the cost of Utah Transit Authority fares and limited weekend service as reasons why fewer people use these travel services. But she’s hopeful of what's to come of the study.

Other neighborhoods like the Glendale Community Council also wrote in support of the city's application for the grant.

In the meantime, Larsen said they’re looking at addressing shorter-term issues like making some walkways at the railroad crossing safer.

If approved, the grant would cover an alternative analysis, environmental review and a preliminary engineering design of solutions for the connection.

Ivana is a general assignment reporter
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