An industrial wasteland separates the east and west sides of Salt Lake City. Civil engineer and Rowland Hall alum Christian Lenhart has a plan to solve this, making Salt Lake more walkable and opening five blocks for development.
Pictured is the current Salt Lake; a rail line separates the two sides of the city.
Lenhart's Rio Grande Plan sounds simple: move the train tracks that divide downtown Salt Lake into a tunnel. The old Rio Grande station would be revitalized to become the new Salt Lake central terminal for Amtrak and UTA services. According to Lenhart, “A fully realized Rio Grande Plan creates solutions to so many problems.”
Salt Lake after the Rio Grande Plan is implemented.
Lenhart envisioned the Rio Grande Plan when he was a FrontRunner train host. Arriving at the Salt Lake Central Station, he says, “It’s a site with so much potential, I always thought something cool would be built there.” He wondered, “well, what about the old train station—what’s wrong with that?” That’s when he came up with the Rio Grande Plan.
The current Salt Lake Central Amtrak station.
The project aims to close the east–west gap in Salt Lake City. “There’s this social construct—the east side and the west side,” he went on, “by re-imaging this part of town, you can connect east and west so that there isn’t so much distinction anymore.”
The Amtrak platform with industrial uses in the background; these uses separate the city.
After implementation of the Rio Grande Plan, Lenhart says, “Salt Lake City will become more of a transit-oriented community,” meaning that most people in Salt Lake will get around on foot or on public transit. Lenhart believes this is a good change because if more people took the train instead of driving, it would lead to less pollution.
A Frontrunner train approaching Salt Lake Central Station.
The Plan is estimated to cost between 300 and 500 million dollars. However, Lenhart says, “It’s self-funding. If you can develop the land, it will pay for itself.” This is because the project will free up five Salt Lake–sized blocks near downtown for development. And selling all that land will help cover project costs.
A freight train passes through downtown.
When asked how this project would affect the low-income residents located within the Rio Grande district, Lenhart said, “I hope as the value of the place increases in the eyes of the rest of the city, that does not mean these people need to be displaced.” However, he himself has little control over how the land would be developed, but he hopes that it won’t negatively affect low-income residents.
The current Salt Lake central station with a view of downtown in the background.
Lenhart thinks one of the best things this project will do for the city as a whole is that it will give it a sense of pride: “People get kind of hopeless and depressed at times,” citing a drying lake and expensive housing as examples as to why that is. Lenhart hopes the Rio Grande Plan can change that: “I hope it can inspire people to take pride in where they live, take pride in their home.”
The old Rio Grande station is planned to be restored.
When asked how people can get involved, not just in the Rio Grande Plan, but in other local projects, Lenhart said, “Write to your congresspeople.” He also mentioned that there will be several upcoming meetings about the project. For more information, visit his website riograndeplansaltlakecity.org.
Why should students at Rowland Hall care? Rowland Hall students should care because the city is their community. It is the people at Rowland Hall who are responsible for making the world, and their own community, a better place. By looking into options such as the Rio Grande Plan, students can support existing ways to help their community, or create their own solutions.