- Judge OKs Mesa’s plan to fund next light-rail extension
- No public vote needed for rail funding plan, judge says
- Extension to Gilbert Road has $112 million price tag
Mesa can move forward with an innovative plan to fund a future 1.9-mile light-rail extension, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday.
Judge David Udall rejected a lawsuit filed by Joe Price, who owns land occupied by a used-car lot on Main Street near a planned light-rail station at Gilbert Road.
Price, who frequently criticizes light-rail and other city policies in e-mails to council members, sued to stop the extension because he said the funding mechanism requires a public vote.
Udall found no such requirement and rejected all the other arguments Price’s lawyer made during a March 6 hearing in Mesa.
Mesa and Metro light rail are in the midst of building a 3.1-mile extension on Main Street from Sycamore Street through Mesa’s downtown to the Mormon Temple area. That work, costing about $200 million, is being funded with federal grants and the Proposition 400 regional transportation sales tax.
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Service along that extension is expected to begin in late 2015.
Several years ago, Mesa Mayor Scott Smith began lobbying for another extension, to Gilbert Road. He argued that because Gilbert Road is Mesa’s symbolic east-west dividing line, as well as a major traffic corridor, it made sense to run the tracks that far east. Metro weighed in with studies showing that a Gilbert Road station would boost light-rail ridership by 4,000 people a day.
Until late 2012, however, no way to raise the estimated $112 million for the Gilbert Road extension had been identified. Mesa’s answer was a funding mechanism similar to what it used to accelerate freeway work within its borders.
Mesa sped up work on Arizona 24, also known as the Gateway Freeway, and Loop 202 by issuing what are called highway-project advancement notes. These are basically bonds that will be repaid as Mesa receives its allocations of regional transportation dollars.
Mesa estimated that launching work on Arizona 24 while construction costs were lower would eventually save taxpayers $100 million.
In the case of the Gilbert Road light-rail extension, Mesa will issue bonds to be repaid from grants previously earmarked for road projects.
The Legislature authorized those bonds, which are called transit-project advancement notes, or TPANs, in 2012.
The law specifically says that the notes “are not general obligations of a political subdivision” and that they are to be paid from transportation funds or “other monies lawfully available for application to that purpose.”
The law does not require a public vote before TPANs are issued.