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Phoenix Studies Southern Route for Expanding Light Rail

There are discussions and plans to expand the light rail all over the Valley. Map credit: Valley Metro
Phoenix is studying a route that will take the light rail south on Central Avenue to Buckeye Road. Map credit: Valley Metro

Phoenix is studying a route that will take the light rail south on Central Avenue to Buckeye Road. Map credit: Valley Metro

By Luci Scott for Arizona Builder’s Exchange

A light-rail spur into south central Phoenix took a step toward reality when the Phoenix City Council authorized funding for an environmental review and conceptual engineering work.

And extensions of the light rail in other directions are in various stages of progress as well.

The council’s action on Jan. 7 on the south central extension allows the city to enter into an agreement with Valley Metro, which will lead a study expected to take 18 to 24 months.

The council also authorized the City Controller to disburse up to $3.2M for the study. In 2014, the city and Valley Metro received $1.6M Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. A local match of $1.6M brings the total to $3.2M to complete this phase of the project.

The light rail extension of nearly five miles would run down Central Avenue from downtown Phoenix to Baseline Road.

Line would promote development

The line, expected to open in 2034, could promote infill projects and waterfront development where the rail would cross the Salt River. Also, Phoenix has talked about developing a mixed-use project on vacant land opposite the transit station at Broadway.

Opportunities abound for development along light-rail lines.

“What we’ve experienced … is there is motivation to develop the adjacent land near light rail, and so we believe this pattern will continue,” said Susan Tierney, spokeswoman for Valley Metro. “Light rail is a very permanent structure, so it naturally is more appealing to commercial, retail and residential development. Developers know that the infrastructure is going be there a long time to serve a specific site, so it is very appealing. A bus route can move, and stops move. A light rail system will remain in place for many years.”

The route chosen for the south central line offers the best potential for ridership and economic development, and it had the highest level of community support, Tierney said.

Current proposals call for stations at Lincoln Street, Buckeye Road, Broadway Road and Southern Avenue, ending at Baseline. Other possible stops to be studied are Watkins Street, the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center and Roeser Road.

In downtown Phoenix, the rail line will use the Central/First Avenue couplet under the Union Pacific Railroad at Madison Street to connect to the existing light rail system.

The south central line is expected to be in operation in 2034, but that could change, depending on funding and Phoenix’s priorities. A citizens advisory committee is working on a proposal to extend the transit tax.

Tierney said the most likely scenario for funding would be an extension of Transit 2000, which is currently a three-eighths of a cent sales tax in Phoenix and set to expire in 2020. In addition, Maricopa County has a half-cent sales tax to fund not only light rail but also freeways and arterial streets; that was Prop 400 approved by voters in 2004.

Capitol/I-10 West extension, others

Another light-rail line in the works is the 11-mile Capitol/I-10 West extension, which is targeted for completion by 2023. That extension would run past the Capitol to 79th Avenue and I-10. After passing the Capitol, it would veer up to I-10 and most of it would travel east and west in the I-10 median. Valley Metro has just submitted a draft environmental assessment of that line to the Federal Transit Administration for review.

A light rail extension into northeast Phoenix is part of the regional transportation plan and is being studied.

Two extensions are currently under construction, in Mesa and Phoenix. In Mesa, there is the 3.1-mile line along Main Street to Mesa Drive, which will open late 2015. An additional stretch of 1.8 miles along Main to Gilbert Road will go out to bid, probably this spring. In Phoenix, the 3.2-mile extension up 19th Avenue is 65 percent completed and will be finished in early 2016, Tierney said.

Phoenix has set up a website to receive ideas and opinions.

Line to Metrocenter mall a possibility

The 19th Avenue extension is Phase 1 of a route into northwest Phoenix; Phase 2 would extend light rail west on Dunlap Avenue for 2 miles, a section slated to open in 2026. A study is under way to consider a route that would take the rail from Dunlap north on 25th Avenue to Mountain View Road, with the possibility of crossing I-17 toward Metrocenter mall.

Other studies are under way to determine options for extending light rail into west Phoenix/central Glendale. The area being studied is bounded by 19th Avenue and Loop 101, and Northern Avenue and Camelback Road.

“That is a larger area where we’re trying to define what the exact routing would be for this extension,” Tierney said. “We have an online survey where we give the public an opportunity to give feedback on which route they feel is most beneficial for the region, for the project as a whole and for the community.”

That survey is available at the Valley Metro website.

Tempe Streetcar

Yet another transit project in the works is the Tempe street car, for which the current route is 3.1 miles, taking the vehicle east and west along Rio Salado Parkway from Packard Drive near Sun Devil Stadium and then traveling a one-way loop south down Ash to University to Mill and down Mill to Apache Boulevard, where it would connect to the light-rail system at Apache and Dorsey.

An application will be submitted this year for federal funds, and funding also would come from Prop 400. With funding, the Tempe street car could be up and running in 2018.