Narrowing High Capacity Transit Options
As part of an ongoing Alternative Analysis to determine the best high-capacity transit options for the South Central Phoenix Corridor, Valley Metro and the City of Phoenix are now evaluating three potential routes to come up with a recommended transit type and alignment.
The three route alternatives, which stretch from Washington Street to Baseline Road between 7th and Central Avenues, were narrowed down from 11 original options.
Bus rapid transit, modern streetcar and light rail are still all under consideration.
The first alternative uses Central Avenue and 1st Avenue for bus rapid transit and follows existing roads. The second alternative also uses Central Avenue and 1st Avenue but bypasses the railroad bridge on Central Avenue, making either light rail or modern streetcar a possibility.
The third alternative begins on 7th Avenue, heads east along Buckeye Road and then moves south on Central Avenue. This option is intended to serve the housing and medical facilities near 7th Avenue. Either light rail, modern streetcar or bus rapid transit could be used on this route.
According to Benjamin Limmer, Valley Metro planning manager, factors that determine final recommendation for alignment and transit mode include potential ridership, physical and engineering constraints, cost, community input, land use, and economic development potential. Planning and public meetings to gather input are expected to last through 2013.
“These things take a long time start to finish,” he added. “However, the decisions we make today are critically important.”
Projections provided by Valley Metro show light rail comes with the greatest capital cost – an estimated $60-$90 million per mile. But it also has the highest passenger capacity, with approximately 180-200 riders per car.
In comparison, modern streetcar (which usually operates in the same lanes as vehicles) could cost $40-$60 million per mile to construct and carry 130-160 per car. Bus rapid transit would run an estimated $1-$15 million per mile and have a passenger capacity of 60-90 people per bus.
Julián Nabozny, who owns the McDonald’s at Central and Southern Avenues, believes light rail could have a negative economic impact on the area. He also operates a restaurant on Washington and 24th streets (along the initial light rail line), where sales dropped 26 percent during the last 3-4 years.
“Light rail totally disrupts traffic and customers will not tolerate the long waiting times or the inconvenience caused by the trains,” he said, adding that he’s aware of several Central Avenue business owners who were forced to close as a result of light rail.
Nabozny agrees that more transportation options are needed in South Phoenix. But, in addition to the effect on businesses, is concerned project costs could triple by the time construction starts, resulting in new taxes.
“The best and more affordable solution, I believe, is the third choice that they offer, which is increase the number of double-buses to run on Central Avenue/7th Street/7th Avenue,” Nabozny said. “The bus option is very affordable, would provide new jobs to city residents, and not interrupt the flow of traffic on Central, Broadway, Southern or Baseline.”
Victor Vidales owns RE/MAX New Heights Realty, which sits a couple blocks south of Nabozny’s McDonald’s location. He sees modern streetcar as the most viable option, citing its success in a similar area in Portland, Ore.
City officials considered that project for nearly 20 years before committing to the streetcar.
“If we’re going to develop high-density, mixed-use developments within South Phoenix and become an urban core, we need to look at other models that have been successful,” Vidales stressed.
He points to the streetcar’s lower costs and ability to fit into existing roadways as additional advantages. The modern streetcar could also help establish a transition between downtown and South Phoenix.
“If you stay on light rail all the way through, you’re never going to feel that that this is an older, smaller community,” he said. “It (the modern streetcar) will give you a feel that this is a different area. People should feel the difference with all the nature, culture and mountainside that exist here.”
In Tucson, construction is underway to add a 3.9-mile modern streetcar line connecting the University of Arizona to the downtown area. The Sun Link Tucson Streetcar is scheduled to begin operating in October.