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Phoenix: LRT Project Under Way ... Expansion Sought

By Light Rail Now! Publication Team • October 2004

Since 2000, when voters approved a critical transportation funding measure, the Phoenix area has had a major light rail transit (LRT) project under way. The initial 20.3-mile (32.7-km) line is planned to extend from north central Phoenix, down Central Avenue through downtown Phoenix, along Washington St., across the Salt River, through the close-in suburban city of Tempe, and into a southeastern terminus in downtown Mesa, another suburb. (See map, below.) Under the current schedule, it's expected to open in 2008.
[East Valley Tribune, 30 October 2004; Map: Valley Metro]


Phoenix LRT map - starter line

Starter line: 27,000 trips a day expected

The line is routed almost entirely in existing major arterial streets and roads (except for a section on viaduct, and a short stretch on an abandoned railroad branch line past the campus of Arizona State University). Estimated to cost approximately US $1.3 billion, or abount $65 million per mile ($40 million/km), the LRT starter system is expected to be completed and opened for operation in December 2008. Valley Metro, the public agency in charge of the project, forecasts that ridership will reach about 27,000 rider-trips per day. Those are trips that will be made out of the congested traffic stream and which won't compete for scarce parking.

With stops at stations and some traffic signals, the line is projected to have an average travel speed of 22 mph (35.5 kph). "We predict that rail travel will be competitive with automobile travel times during peak periods today" emphasizes Valley Metro. While the LRT starter line will have an initial capacity of up to 7,200 passengers per hour, it's expected to attract up to about 3,500 peak-period passengers per hour during in its early, "sprouting" phase.
[Valley Metro website, 2004/10/17]

Major expansion facing voters

As the project has gained momentum, other Phoenix-area neighborhoods and surrounding communities such as Glendale have expressed interest in getting connected into the LRT system. Responding to this enthusiasm, officials have included LRT expansion in Proposition 400, a transportation-funding ballot initiative coming before voters on Nov. 2nd. Prop. 400 would extend the current half-cent sales tax in order to fund the expansion of LRT and the overall transit system, as well as to expand the area's roadway system. In fact, of the total $15.8 billion plan up for approval, 57% is dedicated to building new freeways and expanding existing roadways. Less than 15% would go to LRT expansion - yet that has been the major focus of pro-highways transit opponents.

All told, Proposition 400 would fund a massive expansion of LRT in the Phoenix area: 27 miles (43.5 km) of light rail, mostly in Phoenix (see map, below). Six extensions are included:

· 2 miles (3.2 km) south along Rural Road in Tempe, from the main line on Apache Boulevard

· 2.7 miles (4.4 km) on Main Street in Mesa from the former Tri-City Mall to downtown

· 12 miles (19.4 km) from central Phoenix to Paradise Valley Mall along state Route 51

· 5 miles (8.1 km) from 19th Avenue in Phoenix to downtown Glendale

· 5 miles (8.1 km) from 19th Avenue in Phoenix to Metro Center mall

11 miles (17.7 km) along I-10 in the West Valley to 79th Avenue

Prop. 400 would also fund additional park & ride facilities at new stations on the expanded LRT system.
[East Valley Tribune, 30 October 2004]


Phoenix LRT expansion map

While polls initially suggested strong public support for the project and the ballot measure, critics have seized on a $100-million increase in the earlier cost estimate, and a projected prolongation of the project by two years, to strengthen a concerted anti-transit crusade with its familiar barrage of misinformation. However, the additional costs and the time extension are mainly the result of design changes responding to community concerns with aesthetic modifications.

Reducing congested roadways 38-48%

Much of the opposition has centered on the now-familiar red herring of rail critics that the LRT system will have no impact on regional congestion. However, Valley Metro, in project documents filed with the federal government, calculates that the LRT system will reduce traffic congestion significantly – in fact, LRT is projected to reduce the number of congested roadways during the morning peak hours by 38 percent, and by 48 percent in the afternoon peak periods. Valley Metro's computer modelling also predicts significant annual travel time savings of up to 585 hours per year "for many Valley residents living near the planned light rail route – as well as those living as many as 15 miles away."
[Valley Metro website, 2004/10/17]

And Valley Metro and Phoenix-area community planners have identified even more new corridors for possible future light rail extensions, including routes in the suburbs of Tempe and Scottsdale. "With our population expected to double to nearly 6 million people in twenty years, Proposition 400 is the balanced and integrated transportation solution we need to keep moving in the right direction" emphasizes the Yes on 400 campaign.

For further information:

NOTE: Much of this report has been adapted from material disseminated by the Public Transport Progress news distribution list.

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Updated 2004/10/30

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