Mesa Light Rail Extension

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Federal officials announced last week that Mesa’s light rail extension to Gilbert Road posed no environmental or cultural threats and allowed it to proceed. Mesa’s Transit Services Director Jodi Sorrell will discuss the extension.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Federal officials gave the ok last week to another lightrail extension in Mesa. This one will take the tracks out to Gilbert road. Here to tell us more is Jodi Sorrell, Mesa's transit services director. Good to have you had a err and thanks for joining us.

Jodi Sorrell: Good to be here.

Ted Simons: This, again, goes from past pioneer park out to Gilbert, how far are we talking?

Jodi Sorrell: 1.9 mile extension

Ted Simons: Ok, and this starts when?

Jodi Sorrell: Right now we're in the preliminary design phase, so we have a bit more work to do, and construction probably won't start until, until like mid to late 2015.

Ted Simons: And completed when?

Jodi Sorrell: By 2018

Ted Simons: By 2018. So this should go through what is now being constructed in downtown Mesa all the way out to Gilbert. Why is this important?

Jodi Sorrell: Getting to Gilbert road, stepping the lightrail to Gilbert road is very important to our council and to the city because once you get to Gilbert road you have options. Gilbert is a connective route to two major freeways, so it's a station at the end of the line is easier to, to access and, and it just provides a better gathering point for some of the lightrail riders and the buses to serve that area.

Jodi Sorrell: A good park and right out there, I would imagine?

Jodi Sorrell: Yes.

Ted Simons:A massive one.

Jodi Sorrell: A good size one, yes.

Ted Simons: And now, the Feds had to give the ok for this. What were they looking at? What kind of environmental, historical, or cultural factor?

Jodi Sorrell: Every project goes through the environmental assessment process, and they look at things from, you know, historic resources, are you hitting buildings, historic signs, and what is the noise and vibration impacts and the real estate impacts and the traffic impacts? All of those factors go into, into the document, a big, a big document submitted to the Federal Government.

Ted Simons: Anything come up, any concerns more than the usual?

Jodi Sorrell: There was really nothing in the, in the -- the way that the alignment is designed, we really minimize a lot of the impacts to the community. There is no, no historic impacts along there and, there is, except for minor right-of-way, no real buildings or signs, structure impacts along with this. So, we are excited about that.

Ted Simons: And as far as the costs, what are we talking about here and how will that be paid for?

Jodi Sorrell: The primary estimate for the project is about 143 million dollars. And, and we're doing some creative -- we have, we have, we are doing a unique financing. We're not going on the typical route where we go to the FTA and ask for a grant, and we are looking at, at taking Federal money that's, that's coming to Mesa anyway for streets, and re-purposing that street money, and making it into transit capital, so we're kind of flexing it into transit capital, and we can use that to build the extension.

Ted Simons: So this money set aside for road and street projects can be set aside for this, the Feds say that's fine?

Jodi Sorrell: Yep.

Ted Simons: And what about the match.

Jodi Sorrell: The match does change because for the street element, it was about a 30% local match that had to go into it for, for the, the, this particular project, it's a 5.7% match, so it saves Mesa some money in that realm.

Ted Simons: And it sounds like Mesa is thinking, city bonds, makes sense, but, I understand that the city bonds might be repaid by the Feds, as well?

Jodi Sorrell: What this is, is, you know, you may have heard when people tried to advance the freeways through the valley, there is the highway project advancement notes, and two years ago, coming up on two years, the legislature passed the transportation project advancement notes which allows us to issue the notes for, for transit projects. As transit capital, so that's what we'll issue, and to pay for, for this, and then pay it back with, with other reimbursement money coming back to the city.

Ted Simons: So, but, it almost sounds as if it will pay for itself, or close?

Jodi Sorrell: Not quite. Not quite.

Ted Simons: Close to it? For 7$ million for 1.9 extension for the lightrail. That's not a bad deal.

Jodi Sorrell: We do have the financing costs with all of that, as well. But, yeah, it's a good deal.

Ted Simons: And the 3.1 extension that goes through downtown, that one is not even finished yet, correct, an update.

Jodi Sorrell: That one is not finished. We had been under construction for a couple of years. And right now, it's, if you drive in downtown, or if you drive through Mesa, between the Sycamore station and passed the Arizona temple, you will see construction, which is a good thing, it's a sign of progress. And in the downtown area, we have the construction moratorium in the winter months, and to give the businesses a breather and help the tourists navigate into downtown. And so, that will go until May 1st. The utility relocation is done and you will see the work in the middle of the street, where the tracks start getting late in the middle of the street.

Ted Simons: That's a 3.1 extension in downtown. We are looking at the extension we talked about earlier, and that's the one that extends from the -- well, will this get started as the 3.1 is, is still being constructed?

Jodi Sorrell: They should be done just about -- the 3.1 should be done, that should be done really by late 2015. And, and then, the Gilbert road, the next 1.9 miles to Gilbert road won't start until later that year.

Ted Simons: And you mentioned the moratorium on business as far as construction, and some would I would say there is a moratorium on construction. And talk about the impact of businesses, what do you tell the folks now with the extension, the 1.9 extension, what did you tell the folks in Downtown?

Jodi Sorrell: Well, the construction is construction, and it's going to -- any time that you get in, on a street, it does impact people. And metro and the city have worked to develop business assistance programs. And that we're encouraging the businesses to take care of. One of the things that we did on the first 20 miles, that I think helped a lot of the businesses, at least get an idea of what to expect as we were fortunate enough to have already gone through lightrail construction. And so, we brought some of those businesses in to talk about what would they do differently? How would they prepare, and what did they learn? And which of these businesses look out for? So, some of that has helped a lot of the businesses take advantage of some of the programs.

Ted Simons: And I guess with this extension you will have another group of folks?

Jodi Sorrell: Another group that can walk -- we can bring them down the street.

Ted Simons: Right, and a little parade there.

Jodi Sorrell: Right.

Ted Simons: And congratulations on this. It sounds like a lot of things are happening there, so it must be an exciting place to work. And it's good to have you here.

Jodi Sorrell:Director, Mesa's Transit Services;

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