Published on September 1st, 2013 | by UC&D Magazine0
Opening of Draper TRAX Line Caps UTA’s FrontLines 2015 Project
It may not have been the driving of the Golden Spike, but when the Draper extension of Utah Transit Authority’s TRAX light rail system opened in mid-August it marked the completion of the approximately $2.5 billion FrontLines 2015 project, arguably the most ambitious rail project in the Beehive state’s history since that historic occasion in Promontory.
The 3.5-mile Draper TRAX Line extends the Blue Line, which previously ended in Sandy near 10000 South. The line and its three stations were completed at a cost of $143 million. Budgeted for $193 million, the Draper TRAX extension is in line with earlier light rail projects in the FrontLines effort, which were also completed ahead of schedule and under budget.
UTA General Manager Michael Allegra said political and business leaders began looking at commuter rail for the Wasatch Front as early as 1983. Nearly two decades later – and building on the success of the TRAX light rail lines from Downtown Salt Lake City to the University of Utah and Sandy – UTA officials proposed the FrontLines 2015 plan to build 70 miles of commuter rail by 2015. In 2006, voters approved tax-payer support for the program by putting design engineers and contractors to work.
“We made a commitment to mayors and taxpayers that we could do this,” said Allegra. “We made that commitment with confidence because of our planning. Those were not just statements, but promises we felt good about because of the years of planning and educating ourselves.”
UTA Chief Capital Development Officer Steve Meyer said the rail system is all part of a unified transportation plan, coupled with long-range development plans by Wasatch Front communities.
“We are trying to maintain quality of life in this region while maintaining good mobility and improving air quality,” he said. “It is all based on the planning these communities have done for smart growth.”
Allegra said one thing UTA learned during years of planning was that projects needed to be developed as a whole system.
“When it came to procuring designers and material and how to deliver this project, we had to look at it as one 70-mile job and then break it into segments,” he said. Those segments include Mid-Jordan TRAX, West Valley TRAX, Airport TRAX, Draper TRAX and the FrontRunner commuter train from Salt Lake to Provo. New York-based Parsons Brinckerhoff, which has a Salt Lake office, was contracted as project manager for FrontLines 2015.
Meyer said while UTA officials and the project manager had basic goals in mind, they also knew there had to be flexibility.
“We develop our contracts and working relationships with designers,” said Meyer. “We believe strongly in partnering. You often see contractors battling with designers but our philosophy is ‘all of us against the project’. We try and bring contractors on as soon as possible to get their best ideas on constructability and phasing. We don’t over design – we try to take it to a level for the contractor to build. We keep the designer on for the duration of the project because issues always come up.”
UTA received a total of six federal grants totaling nearly half a billion dollars for construction of FrontLines projects, a tremendous achievement said Allegra given the fact that at the time the U.S. was hit with a recession and federal money began drying up fast.
“Because of our prior success and the fact we had matching money from the 2006 vote, we were viewed favorably in Washington D.C. as an agency who could deliver,” said Allegra. He noted that money from Washington kept projects moving but also affected how portions of the project were delivered.
“At the federal level, they are more comfortable with design-build and since we got federal money for the West Jordan and Draper lines they were done using design-build,” he said. “The locally-funded portions, West Valley and FrontRunner South, were done using CM/GC contracts.”
He said UTA had seen how CM/GC was used to deliver the renovation and seismic stabilization project at the Utah State Capitol building and felt it would give the agency and contractors the flexibility needed to deal with challenges and stay on schedule during construction.
“The biggest challenge we had as an agency during construction was the recession,” Allegra said. “We lost $3 billion in purchasing power because our sales tax contributions dropped. But it was also our greatest success because we had to decide if and how we should move forward with the project. Our board had the courage to say we were going to keep going. It made no sense to stop and it brought all the contractors, designers, mayors and board members together to figure out how we were going to get through this. Using the CM/GC contracts we were able to take advantage of lower bonding rates. The contractors wanted us to be successful and they were able to look at their rates and see what changes could be made to pass savings back to us.”
Allegra said he was “a fan of incentives” and noted a unique incentive system used on the FrontRunner South line. Because the line was being built along existing Union Pacific rails as well as near Interstate 15, Allegra said Union Pacific and UDOT acted as a third party to evaluate performance and approve bonuses paid to the construction team. “We knew our success relied on keeping the railroad happy and the highway department happy,” he said. Allegra added that reverse incentives were also included in contracts for the new FrontLines segments.
“It was our responsibility to provide the right-of-way for the lines.” he said. “The contractors knew that was a risk and included the cost in their contracts. We (UTA) were evaluated by the contractor each quarter and received a bonus if we were delivering on acquiring that real estate. The first time we didn’t make it and I’ve never seen our staff so disappointed. But at every other evaluation, we made it. We closed one contract just 30 minutes before the deadline for the Airport TRAX line construction.”
Meyer praised the cooperation between the many parties involved in completing the Front Lines project.
“We’ve had an amazing group of UTA staff, designers and contractors who have worked well together with our stakeholders and different cities to make these projects happen,” said Meyer.
Next Stop: Sugar House
Opening the Draper Line may have been the end for the FrontLines project, but it is not the end of rail projects for UTA. As the Draper line opened, construction of the Sugar House Street Car line was completed and prepared to enter its testing phase, with a grand opening planned for December.
The two-mile track extends east from the Central Point TRAX station, running parallel to 2100 South and terminating at McClelland Avenue in Sugar House. Running along a former railroad right-of-way, the ‘S Line’ will be flanked by green space and bike and pedestrian paths. Using modified light rail cars, the streetcar will travel at lower speeds than the light rail trains and riders can board at street level. According to information from UTA, because riders will spend less time aboard, the vehicles will have fewer seats and more room for bicycles. n
Cost: $391 million
Contractor: Stacey Witbeck /
Design/Engineer: CDM Smith
Length of track: 6 miles
Start/Finish: February 2009-
Cost: $149.1 million
Contractor: Kiewit/Herzog/Parsons (Design-Build)
Designers and engineering: Parsons
Length of track: 3.5 miles
Start/Finish: Nov. 2010-August 2013
Cost: $500.3 million
Parsons Brinckerhoff (Design-Build)
Designer/Engineer: Parsons Brinckerhoff
Length of track: 10 miles
Start/Finish: May 2008-August 2011
West Valley LRT
Cost: Project: $337.5 million
Contractor: Stacey Witbeck /
Design/Engineer: CDM Smith
Length of track: 5.1 miles
Start/Finish: June 2008-August 2011
Cost: $963.3 million
Contractor: Salt Lake Commuter Constructors:
(Stacy and Witbeck-Herzog JV)
Length of track: 44.5 miles
Start/Finish: January 2008-July 2013