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Phoenix-area light rail now looking to West Valley

By Sean Holstege for The Arizona Republic

Valley Metro crossed a major hurdle Wednesday when it received approval to start designing an 11-mile extension of the region’s light-rail network westward out of downtown Phoenix.

The Maricopa Association of Governments, the regional planning agency, approved the preferred route for the west Phoenix line, which would be the first one in the state to follow a freeway. MAG also affirmed previous actions calling for the extension to run light-rail trains rather than some other type of vehicle.

Metro must also complete the funding for the roughly $1 billion job. Although around half is pledged from local sales taxes, getting federal support could prove tricky. When President Barack Obama signed the nation’s transportation spending bill early this month, he kept overall spending for mass transit flat. And funding runs out in two years.

The Phoenix West extension marks a significant departure for Metro, being the first line not designed to serve urban local passengers.

Before that happens, Metro must gain environmental clearance and move ahead with more detailed design and engineering studies. That work would add clarity to the exact placement of stations. For now, conceptually Metro sees five stations in the Interstate 10 median or alongside the highway. It is less clear where and how many stations will be built in downtown Phoenix, the state Capitol area and the St. Matthew’s neighborhood.

If planning, funding and construction go smoothly, passengers would ride Metro as far west as 79th Avenue by 2023.

The route would run along Washington and Jefferson streets past the state Capitol, where the line would jog up to Van Buren Street. From there it would pass under Interstate 17, follow it up to the Stack interchange, where Metro would run trains down the median of Interstate 10. After 47th Avenue, the tracks would cross over to the north side of I-10 and follow it west.

Wednesday’s action marks further progress this summer toward Metro’s ultimate goal of a 57-mile network. This month, construction began in earnest on Metro’s first extension, a 3-mile, four-station, $200 million line into downtown Mesa.

Mesa officials followed up by approving studies to extend Metro as far east as Gilbert Road. Plans continue on Tempe’s streetcar plan for Mill Avenue and to reignite Phoenix’s plans for a 3-mile northwest extension to 19th and Dunlap avenues. The three-station extension could be open to service by 2016.

Metro planning Director Wulf Grote has said he imagines having three projects under construction within a year.

Read more at AZCentral