Getting There: Didn’t I say this past week would be busy for the local world of going places? We learned downtown Mesa is on the verge of a major change, due to the pending arrival of light rail. Hopefully, Metro’s smart card problem will be fixed before those trains arrive.
“I’m goin’ up, and I’m goin’ down/I’m gonna fly from side to side.” – Velvet Underground.
Didn’t I say this past week would be busy for the local world of going places?
We learned downtown Mesa is on the verge of a major change, due to the pending arrival of light rail. Hopefully, Metro’s smart card problem will be fixed before those trains arrive. And Chandler staved off the possible elimination of a high-capacity bus route and got the funding it needs for the route to start up next summer.
Turns out, the week was even more action-packed than I had promised, due to a surprising visit from U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. He came bearing gifts, in the form of stimulus money for airports and light rail.
Again, to the tick-tock:
9:45 a.m. Wednesday – Metro officials reveal $200,000 in potential revenue was lost in February, with light-rail stations’ smart card readers and users both to blame.
Apparently, some readers aren’t reading the prepaid cards. But some people using the cards aren’t holding the card to the readers long enough, making the riders part of Metro’s problem.
With new riders and new technology, you can see how this could happen. But $200,000? Daaaaaaaamn.
5 p.m. Wednesday – The region’s mayors approve the disbursement of $66 million for regional transit projects.
Among the projects funded, for $15 million, is Arizona Avenue Bus Rapid Transit.
As I mentioned in a recent story, Valley Metro is not keen on this line, or any BRT project. The agency fears the economic slowdown means there won’t be any money to run the buses after they’re purchased, because operations and maintenance are the real financial challenge with these vehicles.
But Chandler wanted the capital committed, with the hope of figuring out the rest later. (It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.) Besides, city officials, including Mayor Boyd Dunn, think Valley Metro’s financial projections are overly pessimistic.
Who is right? Don’t know yet, but if there is complaining in a few years about not enough buses due to breakdowns, we’ll know it wasn’t the city.
8:30 a.m. Thursday – Officials with Metro and Mesa tell the City Council the cheapest and easiest path for extending light rail eastward is Main Street. You read the story that morning.
Really, this doesn’t come as a surprise. The alternatives of First Avenue and First Street would’ve required turns, and engineers don’t like those unless they’re absolutely necessary. Also, research showed the need for acquiring right-of-way via eminent domain was lower on Main.
The downtown merchants apparently have made peace with the idea of Metro coming through, so they’re not going to put up a fight. Now, it’s up to the council to give approval.
People rip downtown Mesa for being boring, and justifiably so. But I’ll say now, the area has potential; I close my eyes and can see mixed-use development, with the dwellers of the upper-story apartments and condos coming downstairs to patronize restaurants and coffee shops.
10 a.m. Thursday – LaHood presents Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon with a $10.5 million stimulus check, to be used for repair of a taxiway at Sky Harbor.
Gordon, to show his gratitude, asks for another $200 million; he wants to accelerate construction of the PHX Sky Train people mover, which will ferry people between the airport and the light-rail station at 44th Street and Washington.
9:30 a.m. Friday – More stimulation, as LaHood announces he’s giving $36 million to Metro, which will divide the money among Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa. Then, it’s up to the cities to individually decide how to spend it.
Mesa’s cut is $1.8 million. Just another $149 million and the city can extend light rail from Mesa Drive down to Gilbert Road.
Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman, like his Phoenix colleague, seizes the moment to lobby for a project close to his heart: commuter rail. Hallman dreams of having such a line end in his city, and who better to ask than the man controlling the nation’s transit checkbook?