Subcommittee moves light rail expansion forward

The Phoenix Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee approved plans to expand the light rail. (Nicole Neri/DD)
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The Phoenix Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee approved a design for downtown light rail expansion Tuesday.

The plan calls for adding track along Washington Street between First and Central avenues. Currently, there are no tracks between the two streets along Washington, although there are tracks running west from First Avenue and east from Central Avenue.

The plan calls for new light rail stations near CityScape. Light Rail Project Administrator Albert Santana said the stations will be for the light rail’s different planned lines and will be within a block of each other. He said the idea is to allow an easy transfer for passengers transferring train lines.

“Unlike other major metropolitan areas, we [Phoenix] don’t have a natural union station or a major area where all trains can come in,” Santana said.

The proposed location for the stations at the intersection of the light rail lines is between First and Central avenues and Washington and Jefferson streets. Under the current plan, when track is installed for a light rail line running west to the Capitol area near 17th Avenue and Jefferson Street, the closest station for those transferring to that line would be further away from the other stations at Third Avenue and Jefferson Street.

District 8 Councilwoman Kate Gallego asked Santana whether the proposed system would increase the opportunity for light rail trips requiring no transfers in the future. Santana said  by working with operations, it is a possibility in the future.

Ray Dovalina, Street Transportation Director for the City of Phoenix, said automotive traffic coming from the Warehouse District south of the downtown area would have to be redirected.

“We’ll have a diversion of more traffic going up First Street,” he said.

Phoenix Vice Mayor Laura Pastor expressed concerns about safety as the light rail system expands.

“What measures are you taking for future security concerns… How will they be deployed, and where is the funding coming from?” Pastor asked.

Santana said in talks with Valley Metro one possibility discussed was installing staffed security kiosks that are prominently located near the stations. He said funding for the project would come from the Transportation 2050 initiative approved by Arizona voters in 2015. The initiative, also known as Proposition 104, provides funding for improving Phoenix’s transit systems through 2050.

Dovalina added Phoenix worked on the light rail expansion as a collaboration with the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG), a council of governments for cities in Maricopa County, which provided support to ensure the light rail plan is an efficient model for riders.

“In collaboration with the current team, we’re working with MAG to make sure that we’re using the up-to-date modeling aspects of downtown transportation so we have good numbers to validate what we came up with in 2014,” he said.

Subcommittee Chairwoman Thelda Williams asked if the modifications to the light rail station locations and tracks would require any additional funding. Santana said the $50 million already allotted for the light rail expansion to the South Central area of Phoenix would cover it.

The project now awaits a vote before the City Council to determine its fate. Gallego supports the plan, and said she believes it will help improve the light rail.

“With this vote, we’re going from a light rail line to a light rail system,” she said.

Contact the reporter at tjtriolo@asu.edu.

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