Two long summers of heavy construction and traffic restrictions along Main Street in downtown Mesa are nearing a close as Valley Metro’s light-rail extension moves toward an anticipated fall 2015 opening.
By the end of September, work on the downtown portion of the 3.1-mile extension will be limited to the track area itself, freeing the roadway from lane restrictions, officials said during a July 24 construction tour.
For the businesses that have weathered two years of light-rail construction, the light at the end of the tunnel is quickly approaching. Soon, that light will be on the front of trains filled with commuters, tourists and the occasional joyrider.
The steel beams of station platforms are starting to rise, and crews have laid much of the track that will take the train cars from the current terminal at Sycamore Street in west Mesa to a new ending point near Pioneer Park and the Mormon temple.
Valley Metro will add four stops to the line when the new segment is complete: at Alma School Road, Country Club Drive, Center Street and Mesa Drive. A new park-and-ride is planned at the northeastern corner of Mesa Drive and Main Street.
Construction is now about 54 percent complete and moving quickly.
Mesa will be home to 3 more miles of light rail by late 2015. Gary Nelson/The Republic
A $75 million grant from the federal government is being used to supplement Proposition 400 regional sales-tax funding for the downtown Mesa line, which is expected to cost around $200 million. Another 1.9-mile extension is planned to take the trains to Gilbert Road, and that portion could open in 2018.
Officials from the Federal Transit Administration braved record high temperatures on the hottest day of the summer so far to tour construction progress on July 24. They were impressed by the light-rail project and much less pleased with the weather.
“It looks like Mesa has a really good project and very strong community support, which is critical for it to be successful,” said Dorval Carter, chief counsel for the FTA in Washington, D.C.
Construction has been a complicated process on the Mesa rail extension as officials had to plan around historical buildings and signs and cut off the faces of three buildings to make room for a wider road.
In order to preserve the Landmark Restaurant building, which dates back to 1908 and is on the National Register of Historic Places, on the south side of Main Street at Extension Road, planners had to cut more deeply into the north side, affecting buildings like the former Larada’s Army Surplus Store. Crews made sure to preserve historical signs associated with Larada’s and the nearby Trava-Leers Motel.
Work in the downtown Mesa core was subject to a moratorium during the cooler months to minimize impacts during the peak business season, and construction began again in earnest in May.
While some construction workers were still out digging around noon on Thursday, a day that saw temperatures hit 116 degrees, about 80 percent of the work is being done at night to avoid the heat, officials said.
In the coming weeks, work will begin to remove the tail tracks at Sycamore to tie the existing line in with the extension. Road paving along the tracks west of Alma School Road is set to begin in the middle of August.
Construction of Mesa’s light-rail extension began in July 2012 with the relocation of utility lines along Main Street. Valley Metro says the work created 706 jobs in 2013 and 710 jobs in 2014.
The extension is expected to bring about 5,000 new light-rail riders a day to the line, which travels through Tempe and downtown Phoenix before ending at Christown Spectrum Mall.