Work will begin in as little as three months to extend light rail through downtown Mesa, a project that will require three years of construction and buying 117 partial or entire parcels along the route.
The Metro line will have an especially big impact on 13 properties where buildings are so close to the street that Mesa will have to remove parts of buildings or tear them down altogether.
Despite the looming start date, the city isn't ready to tell those property owners if it will buy their property or just take part of it.
That's leaving some owners in limbo, like Mesa Muffler owner Jerry McCurdy.
Mesa has told McCurdy it needs to tear down the front 15 feet of his building that reach out to the sidewalk on Main Street. He doubts the 1930s-era structure would withstand that alteration and figures he may have to move. But Mesa told him it needs to have an appraiser evaluate the property before moving forward.
The waiting is difficult on McCurdy, who has long planned to sell his business to an employee when he reached retirement age because years of backbreaking labor limit how much he can do today. McCurdy turned 65 last year.
"It's just terrible timing on my part because all of this is going on at a time when I want to bail," McCurdy said.
Mesa has treated him well so far, he said, but he's anxious to get answers.
The city is working quickly to have high-level officials deal with property owners, City Manager Chris Brady said. He or Kari Kent, a deputy city manager, are personally visiting the 13 hardest-hit businesses.
Brady said about half of those businesses are willing to have the city help them move to a new location because their building is in the way because the transit line will block left-turn access to their businesses.
The city also is trying to avoid getting a black eye if it tries to relocate businesses, as it did 12 years ago when it tried using eminent domain to take Bailey's Brake Shop. Mesa planned to redevelop the shop site with a hardware store, which generated national attention and airtime on "60 Minutes." Bailey sued and got a court to rule against Mesa.
Mayor Scott Smith said the city is approaching owners differently now.
"We're not out to condemn property," he said. "We're out to buy property."
Several things about the $200 million Mesa segment will vary from the approach on the original 20-mile line that opened in 2008.
Rather than having a contractor bid on work a design firm has already completed, Metro will award a contract to a contractor/design team. This allows the contractor to give feedback as the design work occurs to streamline the work, Metro spokeswoman Hillary Foose said.
"It can allow the project to move more quickly," she said.
Aside from cost, Metro will rank other criteria as it reviews bids to get what it believes will be the highest-quality firms, Foose said.
Metro will select the contractor/design team in March. Construction should begin in May or June.
The first construction will relocate utilities that are under the future track. That is the most disruptive part of the project and will last into 2013. Probably the most daunting part of that is moving nine manholes that connect with a pipe 20 feet underground. Each one of those will require a month and closing one side of Main Street.
Once crews establish the track guideway in the center of the road, disruption is minimized.
Also unlike the previous project, Mesa will concentrate some of the most disruptive work in the summer months in the mile-long downtown area. Business drops off substantially then. A detailed plan won't emerge until a contractor is selected, but Smith said Mesa will insist the worst of the work happen in the summer.
"The idea isn't to have a torn-up street for two years," Smith said.
One other new approach in downtown Mesa is a lack of curb lanes that separates the track from traffic lanes. The city asked for pavers with a rough surface in the pedestrian-oriented downtown to lessen the visual impact of a barrier. That's meant to encourage walkers for the growing number of events along Main Street. While crossing tracks is prohibited except at crosswalks, Brady said the city wants to keep downtown inviting to pedestrians.
"There's a lot of tug-and-pull," he said. "We realize there's a safety issue."
The line is scheduled to open in 2016 or late 2015, extending Metro to just east of Mesa Drive.
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