Phoenix to Tucson Rail

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The Arizona Department of Transportation has narrowed down the list to three possible sites for a passenger rail line from Phoenix to Tucson. Arizona Republic transportation reporter Sean Holstege will talk about the rail line as well as give us an update on the South Mountain Freeway and Interstate 11, the proposed Phoenix to Las Vegas interstate freeway.

Ted Simons: The state department of transportation has decided on three possible routes for a proposed passenger rail line from Phoenix to Tucson. For more on that story and an update on a proposed interstate between Phoenix and Las Vegas, we welcome "Arizona Republic" transportation reporter Sean Holstege. Good to see you again.

Sean Holstege: Thanks for having me.

Ted Simons: This Phoenix-Tucson rail, we narrowed these down to how many routes?

Sean Holstege: Three now. They started with six, one was a bus option and now they're down to three. They plan to get it to one by the end of the year.

Ted Simons: There are three different routes. The green, the orange, and the yellow.

Sean Holstege: That's right.

Ted Simons: Give us an explanation.

Sean Holstege: I'll try to remember which color is which. One goes down I-10, rail all the way. Everything south of Eloy will be along I-10 parallel or using union Pacific tracks. So what we're -- The differences are north of Eloy. One is the I-10 route, two are in the east valley, going through the -- Skirting or going through San Tan Valley, and there's different variations of the theme there.

Ted Simons: Why were these were particular routes as we're seeing them on screen, why were they chosen over others?

Sean Holstege: The characteristics. How long it will take to travel, what sort of ridership can they expect. They haven't done firm estimates yet, but they have a sense of what the market will bear. And because -- Back up. In all cases they're also tying into a plan to connect with commuter rail. We talked about commuter rail in the valley, they're hooking into that study, so those options work the best because they carry people from the far east valley into town, they can't take advantage of light rail because of the nature of the system.

Ted Simons: Because it does look like the yellow and the orange are concentrating on the east side of the valley. As opposed to the I-10 with the green?

Sean Holstege: Part of it has to do with expected growth. You just had Mike talking about that. The far east valley is expected to see a lot of growth, and there's a lot of development proposal out there. So these rail lines, if they choose -- The east valley options would be able to serve those developments both of those are expected to tie in to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway airport.

Ted Simons: When they say they're all -- Each one is a blended service, what does that mean?

Sean Holstege: They have in their -- ADOT in their presentation talks about express service and local service. Depending on how they -- The engineering of the tracks, some trains will stop at every stop, all the way from Phoenix to Tucson. Some will take a straight shot and stop at select stations along the way. And when they do the more refined model they'll figure out which makes more sense.

Ted Simons: Like the, press cars in New York in the subway system. So what's next? Environmental study? What happens next?

Sean Holstege: They still have to finish this study. That will be the end of the year. And at that point they will have firm estimates precise estimates on ridership, better handle on the cost, right now it's -- They say anywhere from 5-10 billion. Just the breadth -- That's a large window. They're going to have a better idea what each line will cost, and a better idea how many people will ride it.

Ted Simons: So to make it clear, there's no construction schedule obviously yet, and there really isn't any funding yet.

Sean Holstege: There isn't even any funding for the next level of study, which is what you just asked me. EIR engineering, all that stuff has to come and that's going to take even more funding they don't already have. So again, this is a long-term ambitious project, but that's where we are in Arizona.

Ted Simons: We're also looking at an interstate between Phoenix and Las Vegas. I know there's a transportation report that basically said build this thing. Talk to us about this.

Sean Holstege: Essentially -- The discussion we just had, they have a plan to build an interstate from Phoenix to Las Vegas, it would take a route from Wickenberg south and west -- East around far to the extreme south and west of the valley. The idea is to get as much traffic between here and Vegas, and again, accommodate that growth and move the freight. Because they're looking at how much more freight traffic will be moving from Canada and Mexico through the intermountain west. So that's one half -- Dimension. The other dimension is that's also the fastest growing part of the country. And it's expected to continue to be among the fastest growing parts of the country. So where do you stick all those people and how do you move them and get them goods and services? So the report that just came out was, this is why we need the interstate.

Ted Simons: And to be clear, we're talking entertainment from Vegas to Wickenberg and looping the south side down to Casa Grande?

Sean Holstege: Right. None of this -- These are blobs on a map, not lines on a map, that's another thing to determine but essentially if you go out to Palo Verde, if you cross the river, somewhere rest of that river is where we're talking about tying in on the west side, and it will curve behind the Estrella mountains and somewhere tie in Casa Grande.

Ted Simons: And the idea again would be Phoenix and Vegas and connecting with Los Angeles, and is this -- I keep seeing this southwest triangle referenced in these reports is that what we're talking about?

Sean Holstege: That's what they're talking about. They look at that as an integrated sort of super economy regional economy. The long-term ambition, which this is why it has legs in the senate, including Barbara boxer, I-5 is congested through California, Oregon, and Washington, the next best shot is up the front range and the next best shot going north-south is in Texas. How do you get goods up to Canada into places like Idaho if all those roads are congested? So the U.S. senate is interested in the long-term theory that you extend it beyond Vegas. And you run up the east side of the Sierra and the big basin, all the way up to Canada.

Ted Simons: That makes sense. Also as we said in our last discussion, no construction schedule as yet and no funding as yet.

Sean Holstege: We're talking many of billions of dollars. That's one of the option may be a toll road. That's why it starts to get politically touchy.

Ted Simons: The South Mountain freeway, what's being done with that? I know we're -- Something's got to be close with that, because I'm hearing more voices saying no, no, no.

Sean Holstege: We're at the beginning of the end. ADOT has -- It is three weeks away, less, and the end of the month it will be done with its draft environmental statement. They've taken public commenter and they'll prepare final report sometime next year. We're talking about early 2015 to build it. This unlike the other projects, is fund and is planned. The problem is it's a very political issue, and so what happened recently was the effort to move it on to the Gila River Indian community was stymied by a vote by the tribal council, which basically denied a petition to make that happen.

Ted Simons: I think you wrote if it does go on the reservation, that's another year added on to the study.

Sean Holstege: Yeah, or more. It's a complication. But at this point it looks like that option now looks dead.

Ted Simons: And -- Oh, really? OK. I-10 and Pecos, then south of South Mountain out to 59th Avenue? Is that --

Sean Holstege: Correct. Well, out on the west side they have three options. On the east side there's only one. Pecos or nothing. On the west side 59th and two other options as far as 101st, they -- But their favorite option is 59th Avenue and that looks like the one they'll pick.

Ted Simons: 59th and I-10. You certainly are busy. Thanks for joining us.

Sean Holstege: Always a pleasure.

Sean Holstege:Transportation Reporter, Arizona Republic

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