Valley Metro in Phoenix has received approval to begin designing an 11-mile extension of the region’s light-rail network westward out of downtown, according to azcentral.com:
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.
Freeway-aligned systems are common in other states, such as California, where light rail carries commuters past crawling car commuters in Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento. Wednesday’s action closes the chapter on five years of preliminary work that showed the idea could work in the Valley.
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.
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.
In recent years national competition for federal mass transit money has been fiercer as more U.S. cities shift their priorities away from highway investments. To win federal support, Metro will have to show that the Phoenix West extension will carry significant numbers of riders to justify the investment.
Metro had little problem making that case for its 20-mile starter line, which opened in 2008 and has outpaced ridership projections since.
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.
“It will help ease congestion on the busy Interstate 10 freeway and provide swift connectivity,” Metro CEO Steve Banta said in a statement.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton spoke to the extension’s economic impact.
“Light rail is key to our city’s new economic future. It creates jobs, further connects our community with sustainable transportation options and creates a multitude of new business development opportunities,” he said in a statement.
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 exend 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.