With the pending debut of the Draper TRAX Line, the Utah Transit Authority is less than a month away from completing the FrontLines 2015 program, more than two years ahead of schedule and $300 million under budget. The FrontLines project has more than doubled UTA’s rail system, opening four new TRAX lines and extending FrontRunner another 45 miles from Salt Lake City to Provo. The project was initially scheduled for completion in 2015, but will conclude in August when the Draper Line opens.
The FrontLines 2015 project has been one of the most aggressive rail expansion programs in the country. Adding 70 miles of new rail in less than seven years was always an ambitious goal, but when the Great Recession hit, it seemed almost impossible. UTA’s budget relies primarily on local-option sales taxes, and when the economy slowed, sales tax revenues dwindled. Faced with serious budget challenges, UTA looked for creative solutions to deliver on our promise to complete these projects on time.
With each line, UTA employed many tactics to complete construction ahead of schedule. Some of the most significant examples of UTA’s creativity for accelerating a project can be found in the construction of the Airport TRAX Line. Three innovative solutions were used to complete the project ahead of schedule. This early completion helped save taxpayer dollars, reduced construction impacts to businesses and residents along North Temple, shortened road construction delays and allowed for earlier public transit access to the Airport.
Right-of-way acquisition: Construction delays cost money in the end, and acquiring needed rights-of-way is a significant effort on any major project. On the Airport TRAX line, North Temple needed to be widened in places before the TRAX line could be added. The project contractor offered UTA and Salt Lake City a financial incentive if the property needed to widen the road could be acquired by a set date. This deadline was met, allowing UTA to save money and construction to proceed without delay.
North Temple bridge construction: UTA, Salt Lake City and the project contractor partnered together in an alliancing agreement designed to help complete the project faster while decreasing construction costs and project risk. This innovative approach motivated the entire team to work proactively together to deliver a product that the city and community was proud of, and to complete it as quickly as possible and at the lowest possible cost to the taxpayer. Working together to decrease expenses ultimately reduced the cost of the new North Temple bridge by $11 million dollars. The new bridge also opened more than six months early to automobile and pedestrian traffic, benefiting the residents and businesses on the line.
Project cash flow: Keeping project construction crews working efficiently saves time and money. Unfortunately, when construction on the Airport line started advancing faster than our budgeted schedule, UTA was facing the prospect of requiring the contractor to slow work on the line. In response, the contractor agreed to a payment schedule, deferring six percent of their invoices. UTA would still have to pay the full amount owed, but this allowed construction of the Airport line to continue without delays.
Despite the worst economic downturn in generations, UTA is proud to have completed FrontLines 2015 projects ahead of schedule and under budget. We would like to thank designers, contractors and stakeholders for working together to help us meet the challenges we faced.. As we move forward in expanding routes and increasing frequency of service, we will continue to combine innovative public transit with efficient business practices.