An update on future expansions of the Valley’s light rail system with METRO Light Rail CEO Steve Banta.
Ted Simons: Work is scheduled to begin this spring to extend light rail into downtown Mesa. It's part of metro's plans to grow the light rail system from 20 miles of track to 57 miles within the next two decades. Here now is metro CEO Steve Banta, who, starting next month, will serve as CEO of both the light rail system and the Valley Metro bus system. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.
Steve Banta: Good to be here, Ted. Thank you.
Ted Simons: It's a dual leadership position here. Talk to us about this.
Steve Banta: It is. It's a big decision to consolidate under a single CEO, for bus and light rail. It was the opportunity for the retirement of the previous director and the economy in the situation it was, it was a decision to go to a single CEO.
Ted Simons: Does it help, do you think, cities to think maybe a little more regionally the entire system, to think more regionally?
Steve Banta: It does. This is a small step, but a significant step toward regionalization in the valley. Trying to coordinate our bus and rail system even better than it is today.
Ted Simons: I was going to say, had a little bit of a problem with that in the past?
Steve Banta: Sometimes, four service providers providing a good service, you still have to coordinate between four people and now it's between three and we hope further down the road, it'll get less and less.
Ted Simons: What if -- what happens if the bus system wants something and the light rail something else?
Steve Banta: That's a controversy, but what we've done is we've developed an intergovernmental agreement between how the boards will work with each other in case there's conflicting direction to me.
Ted Simons: We should mention that your transit -- your system includes buses and dial-a-ride and a whole bunch of options.
Steve Banta: We do. Ride sharing also a part of that. We look at what I consider a total transit system. We look at all modes working in concert to provide better service for our regional customers.
Ted Simons: Let's talk about Mesa, the status of the Mesa extension. What's going on out there?
Steve Banta: Moving forward. I think the last time you and I spoke, we got $35.5 million from President Obama and just recently received another $20 million from President Obama in his budget. That takes us to about two-thirds of our federal commitment to fund the $200 million project.
Ted Simons: 75 odd million needed, somewhere around there?
Steve Banta: From the feds and we got $125 million locally.
Ted Simons: And where exactly now will this extension go?
Steve Banta: Along Mesa drive. Short of the temple.
Ted Simons: Apache turned to Main, and then all the way to Mesa Drive.
Steve Banta: Right in front of where they're holding the GOP debate tonight, the Mesa Arts Center.
Ted Simons: And that's a lot of money for 3.1 miles. A lot work for 3.1 miles.
Steve Banta: It is.
Ted Simons: As far as a target date for completion and groundbreaking, I know it's a moving target but what are you seeing?
Steve Banta: Late spring groundbreaking for utility relocation and full funding grant agreement with the FTA in June and we look to operate sometime in 2015.
Ted Simons: I heard late '15, maybe early '16. That's moving rapidly.
Steve Banta: We have our fingers crossed it will be sooner.
Ted Simons: How about the Mesa business owners, how are they taking it? What about the Mesa business owners?
Steve Banta: We have a business assistance plan that goes in effect shortly and we'll work with the businesses along Main Street and downtown Mesa to ensure what we do build doesn't affect them to detriment.
Ted Simons: Can you take what was learned in previous operations and put that into Mesa, what worked and what didn't work for local businesses?
Steve Banta: We're doing that now, we've had a couple of sessions where we brought in the business community of Mesa and invited businesses along the central light rail line to come in and talk about how they've dealt with the impacts of construction. It was a great lessons learned opportunity for us.
Ted Simons: We've got Mesa be extending 3.1 miles. What's happening with other extensions, other ideas out there?
Steve Banta: Four other extensions in the incubator. 2.6 miles Tempe streetcar project.
Ted Simons: Is that going from -- I'm hearing conflicting reports. Might go to Tempe Marketplace and out to Riverview, it might go south on Mill Avenue to Southern. What's happening?
Steve Banta: Two different corridors -- The one we're proposing, 2.6-miles. Goes south to Southern, down Mill Avenue and circles the downtown area around Ash Avenue and University and Rio Salado. And the corridor that runs up and down the Tempe Marketplace is something that we could look at in the future, with a partnership with ASU.
Ted Simons: You need to see what develops along the line?
Steve Banta: First, we've got to modify the regional transportation plan to get the corridor included into the plan and advance it through the federal process.
Ted Simons: Other ideas?
Steve Banta: 11 miles, I-10 west past the State Capitol.
Ted Simons: Ok.
Steve Banta: Three miles northwest up 19th Avenue to Dunlap. And we are currently in a study mode for south Central down Central to roughly Baseline south of Jefferson.
Ted Simons: How would this work? If you're going down Washington and you can go north up Central or go south down -- how -- you have two different trains?
Steve Banta: That's part of the environmental and planning study how the connectivity takes place. There could be an alternative route. Could be two different trains and modify our operations plan to serve the different corridors depending on our options.
Ted Simons: You mentioned 19th Avenue north. And stops in the old Christown -- called something else for a while. I seem to remember hearing there was a problem with extending that up to Dunlap. Is it on hold?
Steve Banta: Back in 2009, we were try doing it with local money and decided to do with without partnerships from the federal government and when the economy went in the wrong direction we had to stop. Put everything on the shelf. The project is about 90% designed and the contractors are working with us with minor road repair and looking forward now that the Mayor Stanton is in office to go before city council and advance the project.
Ted Simons: If everything moves smoothly, the Mesa extension will be up and operational before the others?
Steve Banta: Mesa looks it's in the queue first. The northwest extension could be in operation in 2015 too if we move forward because we've got a 90% design.
Ted Simons: I've got to ask about fare increases. Had a few along the line. Are you seeing any likely in the future?
Steve Banta: I think we're advancing the discussion publicly now. Right now, it's $1.75. Our conversation is to raise it to $2. We're getting feedback from the public and our city governments we work with to determine if we'll implement one or not.
Ted Simons: I know service cuts have happened in the past. Do you see service cuts likely?
Steve Banta: It's a potential. Looking at our budgets and trying to do what we can internally before we eliminate service to fare-paying customers but sometimes a service cut is needed.
Ted Simons: Very good, good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.