WILLARD — Exactly when a northward expansion of the FrontRunner commuter rail will happen is still unknown, but the Utah Transit Authority is working to make sure land will be available when it does.
Earlier this week, the UTA Board of Trustees approved a real estate contract to purchase an approximately 38-acre piece of raw land, located at roughly 550 W. 750 North in Willard, immediately east of Interstate 15. UTA Director of Real Estate Paul Drake said the land will be purchased from Dutch “A” LLC for just under $2.5 million.
UTA Project Development Manager Hal Johnson said the land has been used for years for agricultural purposes and noted that the location is a candidate for a future FrontRunner station.
An expansion of the commuter rail into Box Elder County has been envisioned since even before the first leg of FrontRunner was completed through Davis and Weber counties in 2008.
UTA completed the Brigham City Transit Corridor Study in 2007, which explored options for a transit link between Ogden and Box Elder’s county seat. The effort concluded that commuter rail would be the best way to connect Weber and Box Elder counties and soon after the corridor study was finished, Box Elder passed a sales tax plan that would directly support the expansion of FrontRunner through the county.
When FrontRunner service between Ogden and Salt Lake City began in 2008, it included stops near the Weber/Box Elder county line in Pleasant View. UTA owns exclusive track for FrontRunner everywhere south of 12th street in Ogden, all the way into Utah County. When the Pleasant View service was running, FrontRunner was operating on a shared track with Union Pacific. But the federal Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 required that all shared rail providers implement safety systems that would have required a significant investment in equipment from UTA. As a result, the agency ultimately suspended service to Pleasant View, planning to purchase the right-of-way and build a track separate from Union Pacific.
The 2019-2050 Wasatch Front Regional Council Regional Transportation Plan calls for the continued preservation of corridor between Ogden and Brigham City for future transit service. Though there’s no hard timeline for when it will come, the service would restore the Pleasant View station and add additional stations at Business Depot Ogden, in Willard and in Brigham City. The expansion would involve nearly 20 miles of new mainline track.
UTA Trustee Beth Holbrook said the transit agency wants to purchase as much property as possible now to preserve space for the extension.
“As you can see by the land costs alone, all of our growth in the state of Utah is impacting every location,” Holbrook said. “So it’s great for us to be able to set aside this right-of-way now, so we don’t incur future costs, which would be possibly even greater because this land is not yet developed.”