Metro broke ground Wednesday on a $200 million light rail extension into downtown Mesa as the project’s backers predicted it will transform the emerging area into a thriving urban core.
Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said just having the 3.1-mile segment on the drawing board was instrumental in the city’s recent deals to bring three colleges to downtown. He expects the transit project will vastly transform the city within a decade.
“Every great metro region in this world has options. That’s what light rail does,” Smith said. “It creates options for our residents — options for where they want to live, how they want to travel, how they get to work and how they are entertained. And we’ve seen all of that already in the 20-plus miles that exist.”
The new segment will bring Metro service to Mesa Drive and add four stations. That should add about 10,000 passengers a day to the 42,000 who currently use it, said Metro CEO Steve Banta.
Construction will begin within two weeks, at the segment’s eastern end.
He acknowledged the construction poses challenges but said the process should move faster than with the original segment because the contractor has experience building light rail in the Valley.
“We learned a lot from that,” Banta said.
The extension is set to open in the fall of 2015, about 4-6 months earlier than original estimates.
Mesa City Councilman Dennis Kavanaugh said the most disruptive segment to construction will likely be from Alma School Road to Country Club Drive.
Kavanaugh, a member of the Metro board of directors, expects downtown work won’t have as much of an impact on businesses because of how the city reconstructed Main Street in the late 1990s. The city anticipated light rail might eventually reach downtown, so it moved underground utilities out of the way. That should reduce the impact of construction, as utility relocation can be the most disruptive part of the project.
Also, most businesses in downtown have rear entrances and can be accessed from First Avenue or First Street without drivers having to use Main.
Kavanaugh described the project’s impact through the three Rs — recommitment, redevelopment and resurgence.
“We see the extension of the light rail line leading to a resurgence of downtown as a great place to live and work,” Kavanaugh said.
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