South Phoenix Light Rail Expansion One Step Closer Thanks to Federal Grant

Phoenix's Public Transit Department scored a federal grant that city leaders see as a big step toward expanding light rail into South Phoenix.

The South Phoenix expansion is still in the planning stages, but the $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation allows the city to get started on things like environmental assessments and engineering of the proposed 5-mile expansion down Central Avenue to Baseline Road.

"These kinds of projects require a lot of financial support, and for us to get this from the U.S. Department of Transportation means they consider it to be a viable and valuable project," city spokesman Matthew Heil tells New Times.

The light rail started out in 2008 as a 20-mile stretch, but there are 40 additional miles of expansion in the works.

As you can see in the map above, several parts of expansion are well ahead of the proposed South Phoenix line. The extension to central Mesa, for example, is already under construction and scheduled to be completed by 2015. An expansion to West Phoenix and Glendale is scheduled to be completed by 2026, but the exact route hasn't even been determined at this point.

Meanwhile, the South Phoenix extension remains in the early stages, and the latest update from Valley Metro -- released in February -- estimates at least another 8 to 10 years before this line becomes operational.

The South Phoenix expansion planning started back in 2011, when Valley Metro and the city analyzed the best method for high-capacity transit in the area. In 2013, the analysis led to the determination that light rail extension was the best method, and a route was recommended as well.

According to information from the U.S. Department of Transportation on these grants it awarded -- called TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grants -- the department recognized light rail expansion in South Phoenix as a way to alleviate bus overcrowding.

A DOT fact sheet states:

"Data indicate that some bus trips in the study area experience passenger crowding as high as 160 percent of capacity, even with buses operating every 10 minutes. Planning high-capacity light rail transit through the region's central core will help increase connectivity and reliability for transit users, especially since ridership is projected to increase."
According to information provided by the city, 14 percent of South Phoenix residents walk or bike to work, and more than half of the households have no car.

"The awarding of a TIGER grant to the city of Phoenix provides an exciting opportunity," Phoenix City Councilwoman Kate Gallego says in a statement. "The South Central light rail extension has been a top priority of mine since day one, and this grant will enable us to move forward with this critical piece of our transit infrastructure."

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley