Two new bus lines debut in the East Valley Monday morning, each providing some firsts for commuters.
For riders who take the new LINK route on Arizona Avenue in Chandler, the line provides the city's first limited-stop service to the Metro light-rail station in Mesa.
And an extended Power Road line gives commuters their first access to the burgeoning Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport and the Red Mountain campus of Mesa Community College.
Both cities have fought for years to get the routes in service because of their importance to economic development, tourism and daily commuting.
The Power route fills a big gap, as the Gateway airport's nearly 1 million annual passengers have no transit service. Mesa doesn't have ridership projections, but Mesa Councilman Scott Somers predicted commuters will use one of the few transit routes in east Mesa.
"That is going to be one of the more popular and utilized routes in the East Valley," Somers said. "The connections to educational institutions, job centers, shopping, a major reliever airport - I can't think of any route, save just a handful in downtown Phoenix to the airport, that touch so many economically important areas."
The MCC branch campus has been the source of complaints from students who can take a bus to the Dobson High campus but not the Red Mountain one, said Mike James, Mesa's assistant transportation director.
The new route had minimal costs, as the city is only installing signs at the stops and a small number of benches, James said. The route features 30-minute service through the day and every 15 minutes during the morning and afternoon peak periods.
The Arizona Avenue line passes through Mesa, Chandler and the edge of Gilbert at a cost of $11.1 million. The line was to be funded through the Proposition 400 transportation fund, but the recession knocked the project off the list. Instead, it was funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The line is called LINK, as it links commuters from as far as a park-and-ride lot near Arizona Avenue and Germann Road to the Metro station in west Mesa. Because of the tie-in, bus interiors resemble light-rail trains and the stations mimic those of Metro. The stations display when the next bus will arrive and sell boarding passes. Valley Metro expects more than 1,300 riders a day.
The line runs on Gilbert's edge, where town officials hope to boost transit use, Gilbert Vice Mayor Les Presmyk said. The town recently added sidewalks and bike lanes, he said, to the Fiesta Tech business park that borders Gilbert's new station.
While the line makes it easier for Gilbert residents to reach downtown Phoenix, Presmyk said he wants the new line to encourage commuters to discover his community's downtown.
Chandler expects the LINK to spur denser development along a transit corridor that could eventually include light-rail. The service will run as late as 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, mirroring light-rail hours and making it easier for East Valley residents to access the nightlife in Tempe and Phoenix.
"This is a milestone day for transit in the East Valley," Chandler Mayor Jay Tibshraeny said.
The line also passes through the new plaza at City Hall and a revamped streetscape in downtown. The LINK should boost downtown's appeal, said Dale Steiner, a dentist whose office has been just north of downtown for 20 years.
He attended a ribbon-cutting this week to show his support for the line, saying he expects to use it often to volunteer in downtown Phoenix and to see Arizona Diamondbacks games. He anticipates the growing number of downtown restaurants will draw more visitors via the transit line, which he expects to help the entire community's image.
"If you have a thriving downtown, it's viewed as a thriving city."