It won’t happen any time soon, but city leaders want to bring light rail to Chandler.
Valley Metro, which operates the light rail system in Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa, already conducted a study at the behest of city officials on the feasibility of the mass transit system in Chandler, and another study is expected to begin next year.
It could be decades, however, until any light rail is up and running from downtown Chandler and connecting to the current system in Mesa.
“We’re talking IF,” said Dan Cook, Chandler transportation manager. “We have a long road to hoe and there are a lot of things that have to happen first. It took Phoenix 20 years to plan and implement the existing light rail system.”
That system has been so successful Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton recently called for the city to expand its light rail track by 17 miles in the near future.
If everything were to go right and each step completed on time, Cook said Chandler could have light rail in 15 years.
“That’s the earliest and if there are no delays,” Cook said. “There are just so many steps. And we haven’t even begun to look at funding.”
What Chandler and Valley Metro already did was conduct a cursory study and determined it was worthwhile to look further into the possibility of light rail one day running along an Arizona Avenue corridor. That study, completed in December 2012, also suggested Chandler would need to expand its bus service and develop the area along Arizona Avenue to be denser and more transit-oriented in order for light rail to succeed.
“Is there ridership in that corridor, existing and future?” Cook said. “We need to be able to show ridership will be there. We need land-use policy that is compatible with a transit corridor.”
The success of existing bus service along the route of any proposed light rail system is an important indicator of the future success of light rail, said Wulf Grote, Valley Metro director of planning and development.
Chandler must prove any such system would be successful and then must find the funds. It will be significantly more difficult to secure federal and state funds down the line if Chandler does not begin to act now, Cook said.
“For a project that is so far away — if it happens at all — there still is some urgency in taking care of these first few baby steps,” Cook said.
Light rail in Chandler is not currently in any regional plan, Grote said. But that can change.
“The conclusions of this next alternatives analysis study will be important,” Grote said.
Another important eventual step would be to work with Mesa to expand its line more than it already is. A light rail line along Arizona Avenue would need to continue along Country Club Drive in Mesa to connect to the existing system, or Cook said, perhaps head west at Southern Avenue and then north again at Dobson Road to incorporate the Fiesta Mall and Mesa Community College area.
Mesa already is developing a five-mile expansion of its light rail line along Main Street. Where Mesa next takes its line — and when — has not been determined.
Chandler budgeted $575,000 for the next study, which could take a few years to complete and will go a long way toward determining if light rail will come to the Southeast Valley.
“I think there very well could be light rail in Chandler one day,” Cook said. “It makes sense from a regional perspective, not just a Chandler perspective.
“But it is a process we’ve just begun and one that will take a long time to complete.”
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