Mesa light rail to open in 2015 — a year earlier than expected - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Mesa light rail to open in 2015 — a year earlier than expected

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Posted: Thursday, March 22, 2012 5:09 pm | Updated: 3:40 pm, Fri Mar 23, 2012.

A Metro light rail segment to downtown Mesa will open nearly a year earlier than originally thought, with passenger service beginning in the spring of 2015.

Metro announced the accelerated timeline as it selected a team of three contractors to design and build the 3.1-mile segment starting this spring. Both Metro and the contractors expect this segment can be constructed more efficiently than the original 20-mile system that opened in 2008.

Mayor Scott Smith said the city wants to minimize disruption to businesses with a compressed construction schedule. Also, the city is working with Main Street businesses in the downtown to promote back door entrances so customers won’t have to encounter the rail construction, Smith said.

“If we do this right, I think that will have a real positive effect,” Smith said.

The Mesa extension will bring the line to Mesa Drive. It was originally expected to open in 2016.

Metro expects construction will move along faster because it’s not using a traditional approach, where the construction contractors are selected after engineers have designed the project. Instead, a team of builders and designers are hired at the start so they can identify the most efficient plans together, Metro spokeswoman Hillary Foose said.

Also, Metro is emphasizing the need to minimize the impact to businesses from what is typically a disruptive construction project.

“The mind set we have to get into is we aren’t replicating the 20-mile line,” Foose said. “We are in a unique environment that has to be treated uniquely, and that’s what we’re conveying to the contractor as well.”

The combined team is called Valley Transit Constructors. It consists of Kiewet, Mass Electric and Parson Transportation Group, which all worked on the original segment. Their bid was $111 million, 9 percent below Metro’s estimate. Overall, the project will cost about $200 million. More than three-fourths of the project is funded by federal money and the Proposition 400 transportation sales tax in Maricopa County.

The construction schedule is still being developed. It will be shared at public meetings in April to get feedback, Metro’s Foose said. The first construction step, utility relocation, could begin as early as May.

Mesa is paying especially close attention to the impact construction would have on its downtown, fearing it could lose momentum in its recent initiatives to revive the area with events, more businesses and new development.

Smith said the city and businesses will promote using First Street and First Avenue downtown because most buildings have back doors. Also, Mesa will offer rebates through the city-owned utility system.

The city is still looking at whether it will change increasingly popular downtown events like Motorcycles on Main and the July 4th-themed Arizona Celebration of Freedom.

“We’ll still have the event,” Smith said. “We’ll figure out a way to make it work, whether it means it’s scaled back or not.”

The construction will start just as Mesa is recruiting colleges to open branch campuses downtown, including the recent announcement of a Benedictine University location. The city is also considering a multi-story senior housing development on Main Street and is recruiting breweries to jump-start a nightlife.

Smith said construction could slow efforts if some businesses want to wait until the disruption is over before opening. But he expects some will come anyway, like the planned Desert Eagle Brewery. It expects to open this summer on Main Street.

“They very much were aware of the construction downtown,” Smith said. “It didn’t phase them in the least. They said, ‘That’s OK. It will give us a chance to get settled in.’”

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