Work begins today on the Gilbert Road Extension of light rail in Mesa with the removal of the roadway median and utility relocation. Over the weekend, a colorful balloon release kicked off the official start of construction as Valley Metro and the city of Mesa hosted a groundbreaking event and community fall festival at Stapley Drive and Main Street to mark the milestone.
“By breaking ground on the Gilbert Road Extension, we continue to build our NextMesa,” said Mesa Mayor John Giles. “We’ve seen how light rail has revitalized our downtown and now we’re taking Mesa to the next level by extending the benefits of light rail to new neighborhoods and the greater East Valley.”
Rail service will be extended an additional 1.9 miles on Main Street from Mesa Drive to Gilbert Road. It will include two stations, a park-and-ride and transit center. The extension will have a roundabout on Main Street and Horne Road to help reduce traffic wait times and encourage smoother flow of traffic. A 3.1-mile extension to downtown Mesa opened in August 2015
“This extension is the East Valley’s gateway to countless connections in Mesa, Phoenix and Tempe,” said Valley Metro Interim CEO and former Mesa Mayor Scott Smith. “Expanding regional travel options is important for future riders and has proven itself as a catalyst for strong economic activity.”
Smith said light rail across the Valley has seen more than 15 million passengers a year and has changed the community for the better.
“This expansion was not in the original plan but Gilbert Road is a gateway and although it’s a messy process, at the end of the day it’s worth it,” Smith added.
Mesa Vice Mayor Dennis Kavanaugh, Valley Metro vice chair, has been a champion of light rail from the beginning.
“From 1999 to 2000 I began working on light rail representing both Valley Metro and Mesa,” Kavanaugh said. “I’ve served on Valley Metro for the past six years as chair and now vice chair and we’ve seen the local impact and the importance light rail has made on the growth of our neighborhoods.”
Kavanaugh expressed that it’s important for Mesa residents to remember to support existing businesses during construction and to keep shopping local.
Giles said back in 1999 when he was serving on the Mesa City Council with Kavanaugh he was skeptical of the light rail project.
“But I’m delighted that my skepticism was wrong because ridership continues to exceed expectations and Mesa is in explosive growth mode,” Giles said. “(Light rail) is good for economic development in Mesa.”
Many residents attending Saturday’s celebration expressed their own excitement for the project.
“I live nearby and we take light rail now to events like Diamondback games and when this extension opens we’ll probably use it a lot more (because it will be more convenient),” said 18-year Mesa resident Michelle Volpe, who works for Mesa Public Schools.
Ten-year Mesa resident Willis Lee said he’s excited about the Gilbert Road Extension since he too lives near the site.
“I’ll be a six-minute walk from the station here so I’m very excited about this project,” Lee said. “Although I just rode light rail for the first time two weeks ago I really liked it and now my wife and I are looking for employment contingent on where the stations will be located.”
The construction contractor, Stacy and Witbeck/Sundt, constructed the Northwest Extension in Phoenix, which opened earlier this year and a portion of the original 20 miles of light rail that opened in 2008.
“We are proud to partner with the city of Mesa and Valley Metro on this project,” said Stacy and Witbeck/Sundt Project Manager Jennifer Donaldson. “We also look forward to working closely with the community, minimizing the impact of construction and working to build a quality product for Mesa and this region.”
Donaldson encouraged the community to be patient during construction and to follow posted speed limits and take safety precautions when driving in the area.
There will be a public meeting from 6 to 7 p.m. on Oct. 25 to discuss the Stapley Drive station art at Mesa Arts Center’s Dobson Lecture Hall, 1 E. Main St. The public meeting on the final design will be from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 15 at Mesa Church of Christ, 1223 E. Dana Ave.
The extension is slated to open in late 2018-early 2019 with a programmed budget of $152.7 million from federal and local funds. For more information about the extension, visit valleymetro.org/gilbertroad.
– Kelly Mixer is managing editor of MyNewsMesa.com. Reach her at email@example.com.