Mesa's Superstition Springs Transit Center is still a blank canvas, but at Wednesday's groundbreaking the beginning brush strokes will ply a scenic design.
City and transportation officials will mark the beginnings of a transit center to adorn the end of the line for mass transportation with the bright ideas of a Mesa artist.
Sculptor William Barnhart dreamt up the designs for the spacious center that will act as a hub for the city's LINK bus system, which connects the East Valley to the light-rail system to the west.
Barnhart has already created dozens of sculptures to be incorporated into the final design, consisting of 42, 20-foot-long, fencelike panels that will frame the transit center against the backdrop of the desert.
For the last year and a half, Barnhart said he has been the lead designer on the $2.3 million project in east Mesa near Superstition Springs Center.
He estimated the project will be completed in six months.
With LINK buses ferrying Mesa riders from the last stop on the light-rail line at Sycamore and Main Street to points far east, the cost for the transit center is only a piece in the much larger puzzle.
Valley Metro officials said along with the transit center there would be the investment of 26 LINK bus stations with a price tag of $5.1 million.
Susan Tierney, a spokeswoman for Valley Metro, said the projects would help create 351 jobs in the city.
Tierney said the transit center would also feature a "living roof" with natural landscaping to help provide a cooling effect.
The passenger shelter will be about 100 feet long and made of a material that is heat-reflective and used by NASA for space-bound missions, Barnhart said. The total structure, including his designs and natural elements such as plants and saguaros, will be closer to 600 feet long, he said.
In 2007, Mesa officials approached Barnhart after noticing his large studio, which he built from the dust up on Center Street, just north of University Drive.
"At first, my job was just to come up with the ideas," he said, standing amid the large fence parts in his studio with river rock and rebar. "I said: 'I want to be a part of the whole thing - building some of it, too.'"
Barnhart, 50, and a father of three, said for now he is storing the fencelike sculptures at a safe and personal place - his home - until they are incorporated into the public space closer to the transit center's opening.
Mesa Mayor Scott Smith credited Councilman Scott Somers with being a driving force for bringing the transit center and other mass transit initiatives to the city.
"It's a regional project that is part of Proposition 400, and a joint effort between Mesa, which has been active in planning, and Valley Metro," Smith said.
The mayor will be at the groundbreaking along with Valley Metro Executive Director Dave Boggs.
Smith said civic leaders, such as Somers and other members of the council, want the site to serve as a regional hub, of sorts.
"It was funded through a regional transportation fund, and the idea is to create a seamless system that will eventually provide express service to downtown" and other points in the city, Smith said. "It also links the metro system" to the light rail.
Barnhart said the connection between a transportation center and his art would serve to bring his creation to a broader audience, which was the real reason he signed on.
Some of Barnhart's artistic works that are not even a 10th the size of the total transit center sculpture are priced as high as $75,000.
"My heart is to do sculptures," he said, noting that the work for the city does help pay the bills in that he received more than $25,000 for the designs. "And I want to touch people's hearts with my sculptures."