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A new study says light rail lines to airports may be popular politically, but they don’t make sense economically. Exhibit A: The Utah Transit Authority’s Green Line TRAX to the Salt Lake City International Airport.
“The extension receives middling ridership, even by the standards of a light rail system with generally poor performance,” says the study by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank whose mission is to “develop ideas that foster greater economic choice and individual responsibility.”
The TRAX extension from downtown Salt Lake City to the airport cost $350 million when it was completed in 2013. The study says that money could be better spent elsewhere, especially on buses.
Study author Connor Harris looked at 23 light rail systems in the nation to come up with recommendations about where and when such systems make sense, and when they should be avoided. His main conclusion is that bus rapid transit systems — such as the new Utah Valley Express in Provo and Orem — are usually smarter, cheaper, more flexible and work better overall than light rail.
The study highlights what it says are common errors with light rail systems, including “overvaluing certain classes of destinations such as airports.”
Airport lines “tend to perform poorly” because they are remote from population centers, require extensive construction and their routes tend not to serve many people or dense developments along the way, the study said.
Still, “it’s easier to form a broad political coalition for airport service than for run-of-the-mill transit improvements,” it said. “City power brokers like to impress out-of-town visitors with airports, and suburban residents who do not use transit regularly imagine that a train for their occasional airport trips would be convenient.”
Three airport light rail lines are singled out as examples of projects that were expensive but attracted relatively low ridership, in Dallas, Denver and Salt Lake City.
This article first appeared on www.sltrib.com
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