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.