Gary Nelson – Dec. 6, 2011
Courtesy of The Republic | azcentral.com
Editor’s Note: Light Rail Connect promotes Live, Work, Ride in the light rail corridor.
Fortified by hot coffee and a $35 million federal grant, Metro Light Rail kicked off the next leg of construction Monday with a promise to open the downtown Mesa leg a year early.
Monday’s event at the doorstep of the Mesa Arts Center served chiefly to unveil signs that will mark the 3-mile extension from Sycamore Street to east of Mesa Drive. Actual work in the form of utility relocation won’t begin until spring.
But Steve Banta, CEO of Metro Light Rail, made news when he told the shivering crowd, “Our desire is to deliver the project a little bit early. We’d like to deliver it at the end of 2015.”
That would be seven years after Mesa celebrated the opening of its busy Sycamore light-rail station on a December day that was even more blustery than the inhospitable weather that greeted Monday’s crowd.
“We are here today to stake our claim on the extension of Mesa light rail down to the center city,” Banta said.
The extension, he said, “is progressing very well” with local funding in hand and last month’s congressional approval for about half of what the federal government is expected to kick in.
Banta said Metro continues to work with merchants along the extension to help their businesses survive construction. “We will work hand in hand with them to minimize that impact,” he said.
Mike James, Mesa’s transit director, said there will be traffic disruptions when crews begin infrastructure work along the line in a few months.
“There’s going to be a lot of digging,” James said, although in the early going, the immediate downtown area will not be greatly affected.
Mayor Scott Smith, responding to critics who have said the line should take another route or not be built at all, said the extension is part of a regional transit plan approved by voters in 2004.
“We are merely carrying out the will of the voters of Maricopa County who, through Proposition 400, included in their approval the corridor that we are recognizing today,” Smith said.
“This is a great milestone not only for Mesa but for the entire region,” Smith said. “The East Valley has not only shown that they will support light rail but they will support it overwhelmingly.”
Smith said the extension will generate not only more rail passengers from the Southeast Valley, “but it will also spur the kind of development we have not seen in this part of the Valley.”