New plan aims to re-establish Rio Grande as transportation hub

Jan 26, 2023, 5:59 PM | Updated: 6:11 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — A group of Utahns are working to revitalize the Rio Grande Train Station, potentially bringing back rail service and solving some transportation challenges.

Long ago, a street that was once flooded with passengers traveling near and far remains quant and quiet today, but a recent grassroots effort to change that is gaining attention.

“This area of downtown has been neglected for a very long time,” engineer Christian Lenhart said.

Lenhart teamed up with Cameron Blakley, an architect, to spearhead a vision to create a “train box” underneath 500 West.

The vision is to revitalize the depot district and ultimately bring back the rail service to the historic Rio Grande Depot.

“The infrastructure just is not right, there’s railroads crossings, big freeway ramps, and this plan would address all of those things,” Lenhart said.

The city is expanding, apartments are being built everywhere except one area of 120 acres that Lenhart said could be used to aid the local housing crisis as well as generate tax revenue to go towards funding the plan.

It includes new tracks that the Frontrunner commuter train would run on, and would close off four railroad crossings that are often dangerous.

“We have been severely lacking in our transit options. The Frontrunner is really good for our region, it’s better than most cities have, but it’s still not enough compared to the spending being done on freeways,” Lenhart said. “This is one of the ways to make the Frontrunner more reliable so that it’s a service people actually want to use,”

Blakely said freeway ramps at 500 South and 400 South should be shortened or even demolished to connect the east and west parts of Salt Lake City in a way that they haven’t since the tracks were established in 1870.

“I-15 is this massive barrier, and the railyards are kind of this imposing, formidable crossing that people have to face to get to get from east to west,” he said. “It’s really exciting that we can start taking steps to take some of these barriers down and stitch back the neighborhoods together.”

Salt Lake City mayor Erin Mendenhall called the plan compelling, saying it could create economic opportunity and bridge the divide between the west side and downtown. She said the city has already applied for a federal grant to explore the plan further.

A public meeting is to be held Thursday evening for people to talk to others about the plan and engage with the public about next steps.

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New plan aims to re-establish Rio Grande as transportation hub