Right on Track: Two South Mountain Locals Lead the Way with Light Rail
By simply talking to them, you would never imagine the amount of stress and pressure Vicki Barron and Brian Buchanan endure on a daily basis.
“There are tough days,” says Vicki Barron, director of design and construction for the METRO light rail system under construction in Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa.
She attributes the project’s success to the teamwork of people like Brian Buchanan, deputy project manager. The two of them are an integral part of the METRO project–set to be completed in 2008–as well as South Mountain area residents.
With a project of this magnitude, teamwork is a must. The 20-mile system, which extends from 19th Avenue near Bethany Home Road to Mesa at Main and Sycamore, is divided into five “line sections.” Part of the funding for the project became available after proposition 400 was passed by voters in 2004. Through an increase in sales tax, the cities of Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa, have the governing voice over the project. “I think the biggest challenge is knowing who to talk to in the different cities to make things happen, said Buchanan.” There are a lot of partners and a lot of players who we are responsible to.”
Communication internally and externally becomes another key element of this project. Barron and Buchanan seem to not only love the adrenaline rush from the project itself, but also seem to enjoy learning and pushing each other to grow and step up to the plate. “No hour is the same around here, you go from one issue to the next,” says Buchanan. As part of the design and construction team, the two have to act as intermediaries between the owners of the project (the cities), and the five different contractors that have been hired for the construction portion of the project. When a change or decision needs to be made out in the field, it’s Barron and Buchanan’s job to communicate that issue to the partners, get it resolved and communicate the outcome back to the contractor so the project gets completed on time. It’s the deadline set for December 2008 that keeps Barron and Buchanan very busy.
After completing the light rail system in Minneapolis, it was no question Barron would be one of the best leaders for the METRO project. With more than 25 years of experience, she says that in every city she’s helped with light rail has proven to be a total success.
“In Minneapolis we didn’t have the public support for the system, and after it was built, ridership nearly doubled … everybody wanted to ride the light rail,” she said. “The alternatives are getting less attractive, people need to get around and the time savings will be a big benefit.” With the current gas prices, alternatives such as light rail are becoming a reality for many who would have otherwise never thought of riding.
For Brian Buchanan, his focus in the METRO project has been the Maintenance and Storage Facility. The next time you drive along the Loop 202 near Sky Harbor airport, take a good look at the track work that has been completed. “What you see out there is what I did,” says Buchanan. The numerous tracks are part of the Maintenance and Storage Facility. This is the area where the light rail trains will receive their maintenance, repair and washes. The entire operation system will be headquartered at the facility along with the storage of the trains when not in service.
The hope for Barron and Buchanan is to not only see the project completed, but to also be part of the operational process. Barron’s most gratifying reward is not only to see the project become a success, but to see Brian Buchanan “step into her shoes.”
“I had a lot of people who mentored me and it’s nice to give back to someone who is hungry to learn”.
The METRO light rail system is expected to be integrated with the Valley Metro bus system. The cost of ridership is still to be determined. The project’s total cost is $1.4 billion. You can expect to have tracks completely laid down along the 20 mile corridor by mid 2008. The METRO will be fully operational in December 2008 after testing on is complete. The first train is expected to be tested along 56th Street and Washington in the summer of 2007.