« Home | A Good Use for Severance Tax Revenues » | Are Toll Roads Double Taxation? » | Incrementalism 101, Part 2 » | Incrementalism 101, Part 1 » | Utah Property Tax Revenues Surpass $2 Billion Mile... » | Primary Residential Exemption Worth $230 million i... » | We've come a long way, baby » | Like High Property Tax Rates? Move to Ogden » | Education Funding and the Surplus » | Charter Schools, Hitler, and Godwin's Law »

TRAX to the Airport?

Spending $290 million (which excludes interest and operating costs) to build TRAX to the airport is an inefficient use of tax dollars. In a state with pressing transportation and education needs and a high state/local tax and fee burden – click [here] to see our annual report on this – , Utah needs to make sure that state and local tax dollars are spent most efficiently.

An airport TRAX line doesn’t make sense because there is no traffic congestion around the airport. Moreover, airport employees arrive at the airport during off-peak hours (between 5 and 6 am and 1 and 2 pm) so they are not contributing to congestion on I-15 or other highways en route to the airport.

Transportation experts at UDOT and WFRC say that the percent of rush hour I-15 traffic heading to the airport is either "low" or "very low".

Precious transportation tax dollars should be spent relieving real congestion, not pretend congestion.

Predictably, many proponents of TRAX to the airport also support wasting tax dollars on Real Salt Lake’s soccer stadium.

It’s not just about “ridership”
TRAX proponents argue that more light rail lines should be built because light rail ridership has exceeded expectations. Certainly, people will use TRAX to and from the airport. But ridership is only part of the equation. Three other measures are even more important.

First, how many rush hour commuters will be using TRAX that previously were driving cars on congested roads?

Second, how much will this cost taxpayers?

Third, how does the congestion-reduction-to-cost ratio of this project compare to others?

The primary purpose for building light rail must be congestion relief, not merely how many people will use light rail. Building light rail in an area without congestion, such as the airport, makes about as much sense as a growing school district building a new high school in a part of the school district where the schools are in good condition and are half empty. Logically, the new school should be built where the existing schools are overcrowded.

What about pollution and dependence on foreign oil?
Utah Transit Authority officials have told us that transit’s total share of trips in Salt Lake County would increase by 1 percentage point if ALL four TRAX lines were built. Presumably, the airport TRAX line by itself would increase mass transit’s ridership by 0.25 percentage point or less. At a capital cost of $290 million, this is an exceptionally cost ineffective way of improving air quality and reducing dependence on foreign oil.

What about tourism?
Proponents argue that spending $290 million on airport light rail will increase tourism, but this claim is at best tenuous. Other cities have airport light rail probably because getting from the airport to downtown is a problem, which is NOT the case in Salt Lake. If the state’s tourism promotion people had $290 million to spend, it is highly unlikely that airport light rail would be anywhere near the top of their priority list. Keep in mind that $290 million excludes interest payments and operating costs.

But light rail is world-class, cool, sexy, and popular
Popular, sexy, and cool things are best left to the realm of the private sector. We don’t need to raise taxes to get these kinds of things.

But every time we build more roads, they get congested
Population along the Wasatch Front is expected to grow by about 1.5% to 2.0% annually for the next 25 years, or about 16% to 22% every ten years. Growth of this magnitude means that state and local governments need to build even more infrastructure, including more schools, university buildings, and yes, even more roads. No one argues that we should stop building schools because the schools reach 100% capacity very soon after they are built.

Fortunately, growth in road construction can be slowed without sacrificing commute times if Utah would implement congestion pricing. Click [here] to read about this.

This is heresy. I don't care if building TRAX to the airport doesn't make financial sense or not. Utahns love TRAX. Even if this love is irrational, expensive and inefficient, we should build it anyway because that's what the people want.

The sheeple have spoken.

I especially appreciate your comparison of building a new school when the others are not full. You are correct, just based on this single point, that we do not need TRAX to the airport.

I was recently in New Jersey, and although I think they have rail transit from Newark Liberty airport, I did not use it, but got to where I needed to go just fine by way of an excellent taxi system.

It cost me $44 for a 30-mile trip to my hotel (rental car was also an option), but so it would cost nearly the same to take rail transit if the tax payers were not charged for my ride.

This is a decent argument, but it would be stronger if you actually compared the cost-effectiveness of the TRAX expansion to other proposed methods of air pollution mitigation. I'm not yet convinced that this is actually less cost-effective than other options, or that the costs outweigh the benefits to public health and the environment.

Increased automobile fuel efficiency due to hybrids will have a much bigger impact on air pollution than a TRAX line to the airport, and we won't have to raise taxes to in order to drive hybrids.

Moreover, congestion pricing -- a form of variable tolling, which we support -- will encourage car pooling and telecommuting which will reduce pollution. Congestion pricing will also provide an incentive to avoid rush hour, and driving during off peak hours causes less pollution than driving during rush hour.

While congestion pricing is a tax increase, it would be a smaller increase than the proposed sales tax increases for transportation since congestion pricing encourages efficient use of transportation infrastructure and increasing general taxes does not.

It may not relieve congestion, but it allows people to visit your city conveniently without the use of a car. I am part of an organization that is having a conference there in a couple of years. Having NO transit to the airport would probably make the decision against that city. Light rail transit over bus is a major improvement, given level boarding opportunities, etc.

Incidentally, I live in NJ -- there is no 30 minute trip to your hotel by rail that could cost $44. You overpaid for convenience -- not everyone has that kind of money, or the desire to burn more oil to get where they're going. A rental car for a few days can be as much as a flight. Why should anyone need to rent a car to visit a major city?

It is in the city's best interests for a number of reasons.


We have never heard a state tourism official say that TRAX to the airport is a cost effective way to promote tourism or conventions. Getting from the SLC airport to downtown SLC is very easy.

Getting from the airport to downtown may be difficult in other cities, but not in SLC. In addition to taxis, many hotels have shuttles.

We've also never heard of a convention bypassing SLC because we didn't have light rail.

If given $290 million, our state tourism officials would spend the money on something other than light rail to the airport.

We've asked tourim officials and TRAX-to-the-airport supporters to identify how many more tourists we would get if we had light rail to the airport, and no one is willing to provide an answer.

Catching a light rail is much easier than working with a taxi/shuttle. I am not proclaiming a Dead Kennedy's shout of "Give Me Convenience Or Give Me Death," but do readily argue that such conveniences will ultimately improve Salt Lake City. Portland, Oregon is a prime example of a city where the light rail works. Much of their cities businesses build off the fact that the light rail goes to and fro from the PDX. (Powell's Bookstore for example) Does a reason exist for this attack on this particular route, or are you merely getting warmed up for the Mid-Jordan-WestValley-Draper-Pleasant View-Provo routes? Do you believe any trax expansion is bad? I do believe taxpayers need a tighter grip on UTA, but find it hard to deny the useful qualities of an Airport line despite the above listed negatives.


Like other supporters of TRAX to the airport, you haven't directly addressed our objections:

- This line will cost at least $250 million to build and yet it relieves ZERO congestion and has negligible impact on pollution (and tourism promotion for that matter).

The Draper line is also unnecessary since Draper will be getting a commuter rail stop. Draper does not need both.

Again, the issue is nice-to-have vs must-have. If urban Utah counties are going to continue to raise sales taxes by 0.25% every five to ten years, the money should be spent on reducing congestion.

Let's focus on what really matters (congestion reduction) and then work on the feel-good stuff later, if at all.

Claims that the last mile to the airport has no congestion are irrelevant, because there is not much out there. The real question is how many people from the north, south, and east are adding to congestion levels by driving/taxiing/shuttling to the airport. Give some numbers about the number of cars going to and coming from the airport during congested times if you're going to claim "it relieves ZERO congestion and has negligible impact on pollution" (percentage as well as volume compared to the numbers causing congestion). I thought Trax to the airport was a great idea, and you've raised some good points which would be better argued with better less selective data.

As for "feel goods", curbing pollution is a major life or death issue for the inhabitants of the Salt Lake valley. 2/3 of the air pollution comes from vehicle traffic, and there are direct corollaries between air pollution and heart disease, asthma and child developmental issues in the Salt Lake Valley. Everyone pays for health issues in the community (medicare, social services, school nurses, higher health insurance and more hospitals). More roads, tolls or use fees won't solve these problems unless there are alternatives. Granted tolls will move the congestion onto non-toll roads and city streets and make air pollution problems worse.

Post a Comment