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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Grant Could Lead to Light Rail Service

Last month the City of Phoenix was awarded a $1 million grant to fund analysis of high-capacity transit service alternatives, including a possible light rail extension, in South-Central Phoenix.

The study will explore bus rapid transit, modern streetcar and light rail alternatives along the five-mile Central Avenue corridor from Washington Street to Baseline Road.

According to Benjamin Limmer, planning manager for METRO light rail, a feasibility study was already underway to evaluate light rail options on South Central Avenue, thanks to funds allocated in federal fiscal year 2010 by Congressman Ed Pastor.

Since that time, federal funding became available for projects that met the strategic goals of the U.S. Department of Transportation. A high-capacity transit study for routes south of downtown Phoenix met the criteria and $1 million was secured on Oct. 17.

“The grant basically allows us to transition from this preliminary alternatives analysis to a full alternatives analysis,” Limmer said. “The good news is it allows us to complete the federal planning process over the next couple of years.”

During the study, all alignments (between 7th Street and 7th Avenue) and transportation technologies will get evaluated to determine the best transit investment. Land use, economic development, potential ridership, cost ranges, environmental benefits and travel times will also be assessed.

According to Hillary Foose, public information officer for METRO light rail, the usual outcome is a single route and transit mode that best serves the community. So a light rail option isn’t guaranteed.

“The Federal Transit Administration really wants you to take a step back and not assume any mode is the right mode,” Foose stressed. “They really want you to do the work to figure out what is the right mode and right route. That’s why they have you look at those various options.”

Limmer estimates the study will last about two years and include heavy public involvement through meetings and outreach.

“It (community involvement) is absolutely the most critical piece because the bottom line with these alternatives analyses is the preferred option,” he added. “The public – it’s their option. What’s best for them? What do they want as a community? What are their needs?”

The South Central Corridor was the only area in the Valley that received federal funding for a light rail study. But other assessments are in their final stages, including for extensions in Mesa and the West Valley.

In addition to $1 million for analysis of high-capacity transit service alternatives in South-Central Phoenix, the Phoenix Public Transit Department received a $6.36 million grant to aid in refurbishing the city’s North Transportation Facility. The center, which serves as a hub for operation and maintenance of the city’s bus fleet, houses 145 buses, encompasses 34,480 square feet of space, and sits on 9.9 acres of land.

Both grants represent a portion of the $928.5 million in federal funds released last month to finance more than 300 public transportation projects across the United States. The money – made available through the Federal Transit Administration – is intended to help generate jobs through renovating and building transit facilities, manufacturing new clean-fuel buses, and helping communities plan responsibly for future transit needs.

Written by Tom Thrush

South Mountain District News

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