Mesa will unveil its design for the next three miles of light rail on Saturday, including plans to narrow Main Street through downtown.
The design calls for doing two things that seem at odds with each other: bringing more people downtown on Metro while cutting the number who go through in a car.
Planners and many merchants say those concepts are complementary. They want to cut the large number of cars that pass through without stopping, hoping that slower traffic will make the area more inviting for people to walk around.
“If people don’t want to slow down — if they’re in a hurry — they’ll take a different route,” said Mesa Vice Mayor Kyle Jones.
Main will carry less traffic by cutting it from a four-lane road to two lanes, but merchants generally accept the idea, Jones said.
To keep four lanes, the city would have to eliminate left-turn bays. Computerized traffic models show that would back up traffic more than reducing the number of lanes.
The city could also keep four lanes if it removed part of the sidewalk — which would make construction more disruptive and has been a concern to merchants. The city will not tear out anything beyond the curb when possible so pedestrians can easily get to shops and restaurants during construction, said Jodi Sorrell, Mesa’s transportation outreach coordinator.
“It was an important issue to maintain as much on-street parking as we could and to minimize the impact to the curbs,” Sorrell said.
Construction is set to start in 2013 and the line is set to open in 2016. The city for years has considered doing the most disruptive work in the downtown during the summer, when business slows. The city is still studying how to make that work, Sorrell said.
The downtown construction should be less disruptive than the work on the original 20-mile rail line. The most painful work involves moving underground utilities, but Mesa relocated nearly all of them a decade ago.
Several merchants said they aren’t too concerned about construction chasing away customers.
Evermore Nevermore owner Bob Leeper said his shop doesn’t rely on everyday foot traffic, but that most customers stop in during Second Fridays or other weekend and evening activities.
“Hopefully when they’re doing the construction, it won’t affect the events,” Leeper said.
Queens Pizzeria & Café owner Shelley Nikolich said plans for light rail were part of why she bought the business five weeks ago. Downtown needs more people, she said, and the transit service should make the area more attractive for shoppers.
“I think it’s going to be a great location once the rail is in,” Nikolich said. “We’re hoping downtown becomes a destination point for people.”
The city needs to relax sign restrictions so shopkeepers can better advertise their businesses from the parking lots behind Main Street. Most stores have entrances from the parking lots, which should minimize construction headaches if signs are in place, Jones said.
“We’re going to try to do it before construction so people can get used to entering from the rear, so when construction starts it’s not a drastic change,” he said.
Mesa still has several things to resolve. The city isn’t sure yet if any building will have to be torn down to make room along the three-mile expansion, Sorrell said. That will become clear only after engineers plot the exact path, which they can begin work on after the City Council approves the station locations on April 29.
Mesa also plans a park-and-ride lot east of Mesa Drive. The city is studying how large the lot needs to be and exactly where to place it, Sorrell said. That should be identified this summer.
Also, the station designs and artwork haven’t been determined.
Mesa will have additional public meetings for other elements of the project. The current plans, including the number of lanes on Main and station locations, were developed by a committee of more than 40 downtown residents, property owners and businesses.
While planning for the initial 20 miles was sometimes difficult, the Mesa extension usually involved most people agreeing on the design, Jones said.
“I think the difference is we did a lot of legwork in communicating with the people and really made it a point to let them feel that they had a say in things,” Jones said.