(KCPW News) Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker envisions a streetcar system not only in Sugar House but also in downtown and potentially other neighborhoods after returning from a recent trip to Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. Observing the transit systems in those cities sold him on the idea that streetcars will drive economic development.
"It is an incredible inducement for development. You lay the tracks and development follows, about immediately, is what we saw place after place," said Becker. "In fact, I think the term that was used up there that stuck with me was, we're not talking about transit-oriented development; we're talking about development-oriented transit."
City staffers who joined the mayor's trip learned that Portland spent $55 million to build the first two-and-a-half miles of its own streetcar system. That investment drew an estimated 4.6 million square feet of new commercial space and 7,200 housing units.
D.J. Baxter, executive director of the Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency, noted the high cost of driving as one reason to begin pursuing a streetcar system immediately.
"If we had waited until $3 a gallon gas to start thinking about building light rail, we'd be way behind the curve now," he said. "By the same token, do we want to wait for $10 a gallon gas before we make it possible for people to live without owning a car at all?"
Mayor Becker said a streetcar system can be built without raising taxes across the board. But he said funding options might include creating redevelopment zones or levying a special assessment on the businesses that would benefit from the streetcar. Salt Lake City used to have an extensive streetcar system in the 19th and early 20th century.