Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is about to start up its own version of "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." No, not the 1987 comedy of holiday travel horrors, but a way to connect with Metro light rail.
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PHX Airport Shuttle is a free bus service that runs from the Metro station at 44th and Washington streets to the airport's terminals. Dec. 29 is the first day the shuttle begins transporting visitors and airport employees; a bus will leave the station every 10 minutes during the same hours as light rail.
According to airport spokeswoman Deborah Ostreicher, with more vehicles than ever crowding the roads around the terminals, officials long have desired a way to remove some of that traffic.
The hope is that people will decide to save money and time by taking the shuttle rather than battling for a parking spot and paying for the privilege to do so. And when passengers need a ride home, now they can catch the shuttle to the train station rather than forcing someone else to either park or drive around the terminals again and again.
Also, this solves the issue of Metro bypassing what was in 2007 America's eighth-busiest airport, measured by combined takeoffs and landings.
As Ostreicher explained, nobody thought it was a good idea for light rail, in the course of connecting Phoenix with the East Valley, to make an extra handful of stops at the airport: Rental Car Center, Terminal 2, Terminal 3, Terminal 4.
So, this is an alternative that serves airport traffic while not disrupting Metro's operations.
But the PHX Airport Shuttle is just the start of the relationship between the airport and light rail.
"Today, it's a bus," Ostreicher said, "but that's just until 2013 when we have the train."
By then, Sky Harbor expects to have a light rail line of its own. It would connect the Metro station with Terminal 4; in later years, the airport's trains would run all the way to the Rental Car Center, north of Interstate 17 and east of 16th Street.
There also would be an area for departing passengers to check bags and receive boarding passes.
That construction timetable could be pushed up if the incoming presidential administration decides the project is worthy of funding via an economic stimulus package.
"It's all about getting people to work tomorrow," Ostreicher said.
The Maricopa Association of Governments is asking the government for $166 million, which would bring in enough money to build the tracks to the East Economy parking area.
Already, construction has begun on a pedestrian bridge from the station over Washington and ending - for now - in mid-air. Ostreicher said the bridge was built ahead of time as to not impede work on the light-rail line.