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Tempe Seeks to Boost Streetcar Appeal

A Valley Metro rendering shows what a future streetcar might look like as it travels through Tempe. Credit: Valley Metro

By Chris Coppola for The Arizona Republic

The vision for Tempe’s $177M proposed downtown streetcar line includes hybrid cars that use batteries to avoid overhead wires on parts of the route along Mill and Ash avenues.

But some manufacturers of the vehicles say they can’t guarantee the batteries will have enough juice to handle both thoroughfares on hot summer days.

The city is working with Valley Metro, its partner on the project, to explore the wireless option for the portion of the streetcar line that will run along those avenues in the heart of downtown.

It is one of two ways the city wants to make the streetcar more aesthetically appealing.

Also included in the plan is a $735,000 allocation to add a piece of public art for each of the 14 streetcar stops planned along the 3-mile route. The art would be similar to the way public art has been installed at 28 light-rail stops across the Valley, including eight pieces in Tempe.

The entire project is contingent on a $75M federal grant, which is included in President Barack Obama’s budget proposal for 2017 (AZBEX, Feb. 12, 2016). However, Congress has yet to act on the funding proposal. The Federal Transit Administration earlier this year made the recommendation to include the Tempe streetcar in the federal budget.

In addition to the $75M in federal money, funding sources include a regional transportation sales tax adopted by Maricopa County voters, a local transit sales tax in Tempe and a Maricopa Association of Governments fund for projects that mitigate traffic congestion and improve air quality.

The streetcar system would start on Rio Salado Parkway and extend southward, looping between Mill and Ash, then continue south on Mill past Arizona State University to Apache Drive and east to Dorsey Lane. The system would connect with two light-rail stops and share lanes with regular traffic.

Scott Smith, interim CEO of Valley Metro, told the City Council recently that should Congress not approve the funding in the new budget, the project must be resubmitted for authorization. That could delay the timeline of work starting next spring and a 2019 opening.

Read more at The Arizona Republic

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