Light rail to Gilbert Road in Mesa comes into focus

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Nothing is in concrete yet, but Mesa is beginning to get a clearer picture of the possible timing and costs for what seems an ever-more-likely extension of light rail to Gilbert Road.

About 50 people got up to speed on the project during a meeting Tuesday night at Mesa Church of Christ, just a block south of where the future tracks would transform the intersection of Main Street and Stapley Drive.

Work already has begun on 3.1 miles of new track from the Sycamore Street station to just west of Horne Street; service on that leg is expected to begin in late 2015. The extension to Gilbert Road would be another 1.7 miles.

Howard Steere, community relations manager for Metro light rail, said the agency would like to begin building the next extension the minute it wraps up work on the first.

“We’re going to work hard to make that happen,” he said, “but that’s a very aggressive schedule to try to accomplish.”

Much depends on funding.

Jodi Sorrell, Mesa’s acting transit director, said the City Council is expected to begin looking at the money issue late this year. “It could be kind of complicated,” Sorrell said.

Marc Soronson, project manager for the Gilbert Road extension, said light rail is currently costing $60 million to $80 million a mile.

The Gilbert Road extension will be on the low end of that range, he said, if planners decide to restrict vehicular traffic to one lane in each direction.

If Main Street must be widened to accommodate not only the tracks but four lanes of traffic, Soronson said costs will rise significantly. That scenario would require buying some private property.

Here’s a sampling of some of the questions and answers from Tuesday’s meeting:

Question: What effect will this have on my property taxes?

Answer: None. The most likely sources of funding will be federal grants and the countywide Proposition 400 sales tax that voters approved in 2004.

Q: Will this extension ever pay for itself?

A. “This won’t ever pay for itself,” Steere said. But he said that is true of every public transportation project in the country, including streets. He said economic development is a big factor in such projects and said the four colleges building campuses in downtown Mesa are doing so in part because of the advent of light rail.

Q: Why not just enhance the bus service on Main Street to the Sycamore Street station?

A. Steere said light rail will attract many more passengers heading for destinations to the west than would buses, because people want a “one-seat ride” and are reluctant to switch from one mode to another on the same trip.

Q: Does light rail affect nearby property values?

A: Steere said Metro’s surveys suggest properties within a quarter-mile of light-rail stations are valued at 6 to 12 percent higher than comparable properties away from the light-rail line.

Q: What about crime?

A: “Our level of incidents is low,” Metro spokeswoman Hillary Foose said. The number of people at busy rail stations and on-duty security officers discourage criminal activity.

Q: Why pursue the project in a down economy?

A: Other projects across the country are vying for federal dollars, Steere said. “We would rather be in a position to be in line than not in line if dollars do become available.”

Q: Will Metro and Mesa be able to force Main Street landowners to improve their properties?

A: No, because property rights are involved. But Mesa does have an overarching community plan for the light-rail corridor and can enforce architectural and design standards when redevelopment occurs.

With the project moving ahead rapidly, Metro officials said another public meeting will be Oct. 30 at St. Peter Lutheran Church, 1844 E. Dana Ave., where detailed design concepts will be available.

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