• The new West Valley TRAX Line won the 2011 Grand Conceptor Award in the American Council of Engineering Companies of Utah Engineering Excellence Awards competition.

file under: Government, North America, Transportation, United States

Light Rail Solutions for Heavy Congestion

Designing Utah Transit Authority's New TRAX Lines

Nestled between the natural beauty of the Great Salt Lake to the west and the Wasatch Mountains to the east, the Wasatch Front metropolitan region in Utah, USA, is home to 80 percent of the state’s population. As cities like Salt Lake City, Ogden and Provo grow and residents spread out to the north and south, the region is challenged to keep up with rising population and mobility demands.

The Salt Lake Valley is a growing and thriving community. In partnership with CDM Smith, we’ve been able to … improve mobility for everyone. 

To accommodate this growth, the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) launched its ambitious FrontLines 2015 program—a long-range, fast-track transportation plan to expand its existing Transit Express (TRAX) light rail system. CDM Smith partnered with UTA to design and implement improvements to the Wasatch Front’s transit system on the new West Valley and Airport TRAX lines, helping support their mission of providing a world class transit system to meet a growing population and economy.

On the Front Lines for Mobility
Funded by a local tax referendum, FrontLines is a $2.4 billion program of rail projects that will add 70 miles to UTA’s existing 64-mile rail network by 2015. “Our local taxpayers see the value in expanding our transit options in the area and are investing in the system’s future,” describes Jim Webb, UTA project manager. “FrontLines is not only designed to increase transit options for Wasatch Front residents, but to also enhance mobility for non-riders by decreasing congestion on our roads.”

Breaking New Ground for West Valley City
CDM Smith partnered with UTA on the award-winning design and implementation of the West Valley TRAX Line—a new, 5.1-mile light rail line linking West Valley City to Salt Lake City and the University of Utah. CDM Smith was involved very early in the project, starting with an intermodal transportation center master plan and environmental assessment, followed by preliminary engineering, environmental studies, and design and construction services.

Utah Transit Authority TRAX MapThe new rail line includes five major bridges, four TRAX stations and one intermodal center. It travels across rural and urban areas, two interstate highways, a major rail yard and the Jordan River. Navigating these challenges while staying on schedule and budget required creative solutions.

Several innovative design features were used throughout the project. The use of ballasted track, which is crushed stone underneath track ties, instead of standard track placement methods helped lower costs. To save time in the Union Pacific Roper Yard area—where it was estimated that 5 feet of settlement would occur over a 3-year period using traditional construction methods—geofoam blocks were used for embankments to allow the project to continue without settlement time.

Building a Gateway to the Skies
CDM Smith and UTA are also partnering on the 6-mile Airport TRAX Line from Salt Lake City to the Salt Lake City International Airport. The line includes six stations, a park-and-ride lot, and a new multimodal viaduct over a busy freight and commuter rail corridor.

The airport line has its own set of challenges, starting with the complete redesign of the North Temple viaduct. To update aging infrastructure carrying traffic over the Union Pacific and commuter rail tracks, the viaduct was razed and reconstructed to accommodate traffic and light rail, and also allow a transfer station between the commuter rail and light rail to the airport.

The Airport TRAX project also included major urban design improvements along North Temple Street to create a modern gateway into the city. Since the TRAX line runs down the main entrance from the airport to the city, UTA and Salt Lake City partnered to create an integrated, green streetscape. Design for the area includes sidewalks for walking and biking, new lighting and planned green space.

“We’re pleased with how these projects are coming together,” shares Webb. The West Valley Line opened in August 2011 and has seen continued increases in ridership. The Airport Line is on schedule to open by April 2013. “The Salt Lake Valley is a growing and thriving community,” continues Webb. “In partnership with CDM Smith, we’ve been able to make the FrontLines plan a reality and improve mobility for everyone.”