Light rail expansion key to Valley’s future

Light rail expansion key to Valley’s future

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Valley Metro CEO Scott Smith and Mesa Mayor John Giles scrutinize their bottles of root beer at April's Mesa Morning Live. (Shelley Ridenour/MyNewsMesa.com)

It may have started out with some less-than-successful jokes, but the topic of the April installation of Mesa Morning Live was no laughing matter.

Mesa Mayor John Giles subbed as moderator of the Mesa Chamber of Commerce event, filmed and shown live on Mesa’s Channel 11. His guest, Scott Smith, deadpanned along with his jokes.

Scott, the CEO of Valley Metro, is a former Mesa mayor who held the office immediately before Giles. Yet the two teetotallers joked as if it was their first meeting. They toasted with root beers on the stage at Crescent Crown Distributing that was decorated in a Cinco de Mayo theme, complete with plenty of Corona beer promotional materials.

Giles kept a running joke through the event as his root beer bubbled out of the brown bottle, much to the glee of the audience.

Turning to the matter at hand, Smith discussed the Gilbert Road extension of light rail, now underway in Mesa. The 1.9-mile stretch runs from the current end of the train route at Mesa Drive, along Main Street to Gilbert Road. It’s scheduled to open in spring 2019.

Smith cautioned that construction estimates can be inaccurate. “There are always some issues with construction,” he said, promising the finished product will be “worth the wait.”

He pointed out the swag bags given to event attendees and encouraged people to go shopping at Main Street businesses where construction is occurring, to show them their support of downtown and the light rail project.

The extension to Gilbert Road has long been planned, mostly because it’s logical, Smith said.

“Mesa Drive is not a typical end of the line,” Smith said. Rather, extending the line to Gilbert Road creates a “natural split” for future lines to head in other directions to serve other communities. Gilbert Road is a traditional end-of-line spot, he said.

“If light rail ever expands east, Gilbert Road is critical,” Smith said.

According to Smith, light rail carries 60,000 people a day in the Valley, a number equivalent to “a sold-out Sun Devil stadium, every day.”

Younger people are key to the success of light rail, he said.

“They’ve not only accepted, but have embraced, light rail.”

During the 2 1/2 days of Final Four events in the Valley earlier this month, 220,000 people used light rail, Smith said.

Giles testified to the increase in activity in downtown Mesa since the 3.1-mile extension of the line there opened in August 2015.

“If a dog with a lame leg walked across Main Street, there was absolutely no threat of it being hit 20 years ago,” Giles said, jokingly. “Not today,” people are everywhere in downtown Mesa in a big part because of light rail.

The city of Mesa considers the half-mile radius surrounding the light rail line the rail corridor.

That area in downtown Mesa has seen $9 billion in real estate activity, Giles said. Of that, $7 billion was private investment and $2 billion was public – government – investment.

Forty miles of additional light rail line are in various phases of planning, design or construction in the Valley.

Other expansion plans are outside of the East Valley, and include two phases in downtown Phoenix, the first extending the line 1.5 miles to the state capitol and then extending 9.5 miles west along Interstate 10 to 79th Street. Those two lines are to open in 2023 and 2030, respectively.

Another 5-mile stretch is planned to run south from downtown Phoenix to Baseline Road. It would open in 2023. A 1.7-mile extension is planned from 19th Avenue and Dunlap across Interstate 17 to Metrocenter Mall by 2023.

Studies are underway evaluating a 5-mile route from west Phoenix into downtown Glendale and a 12-mile project running northeast toward the Paradise Valley Mall.

Watch archived sections of Mesa Morning Live on YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/MesaMorningLive

– Shelley Ridenour is a freelance reporter for MyNewsMesa.com.

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