Tempe Street Car Update

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Stops for Tempe’s proposed street car were unveiled this week. The planned route has also been lengthened. We’ll get an update from Tempe councilmember Shana Ellis.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. A revised plan for a proposed streetcar in Tempe was unveiled this week. The update includes new stops and an expanded route. Here with more is Tempe city council member Shana Ellis. Good to see you again.

Shana Ellis: Good to see you too, thank you.

Ted Simons: What was decided or considered or at least talked about Monday night?

Shana Ellis: Okay. Well, think the last time I was here, we talked about the two proposed routes. We called one a C and one an L based on their location. And we had a lot of public meetings, got a lot of input from residents and businesses and in typical Tempe fashion, we decided to go big and we combined the two routes and we're recommending both of them.

Ted Simons: So, I think we have a map now that will not only show the routes, but will also show some of the stops here. The stops -- first of all, the blue is the route, correct?

Shana Ellis: Correct.

Ted Simons: Where are we starting and where are we ending?

Shana Ellis: Well, if you look at the top of the map, marina heights, which is also known as the State Farm development -- so the streetcar will go down Rio SILADO, by Hayden Ferry, and then will continue down to ash avenue. It goes counterclockwise, so it will then go south on ash. It will go east on university. And it will go north on mill to kind of make a counterclockwise loop, but it will also go south and go around Gammage auditorium and a lot of the ASU campus and development.

Ted Simons: Has there been concern that the streetcar, as we see going around -- you can see the -- you can -- is it going to take away from some of the beauty of Gammage sitting there?

Shana Ellis: I don't believe so. I think historically streetcars have been in the fabric of the United States for a very long time. And we're working very closely with ASU to make sure that we preserve the architectural integrity of all of the areas.

Ted Simons: As far as the route, you mentioned it goes and stops at the State Farm area. Why does it not go further east?

Shana Ellis: Well, it's about funding.

Ted Simons: Okay.

Shana Ellis: And it's also about a lot of environmental assessments that we have done. This is a regional project. It will be run by Metro, which runs our rail project also, but there is a little bit of more expense once you head down Rio SILADO, but we hope that will be a future route, an add-on --

Ted Simons: It is possible.

Shana Ellis: Yes.

Ted Simons: The map, the black dots, those are streetcar stops that have been added, correct?

Shana Ellis: Correct. So the yellow dots were stops that have already been through quite a public process. And the black dots are what is being rolled out to the public. We had a public meeting on Monday evening, and the city council will be deciding on these stops on January 8th. And we will recommend those stops or different stops to the Metro board of directors.

Ted Simons: And as far as the Hayden Ferry and marina heights stop, that is only two down there. Was there a thought for maybe more or what was the decision there?

Shana Ellis: Well, the more stops you add, the longer it will take the streetcar to get from end to end. So, it seemed that these stops were spaced where people would be easily able to get off and on.

Ted Simons: Okay. Cost for all of this. What are we looking at?

Shana Ellis: Well, it's estimated that this combined route will cost about $190 million. But some of that money is already procured. It's already set aside. So, there is $32 million in CMAQ money, which is congestion, mitigation, and air quality money. It's federal money.

Ted Simons: Okay.

Shana Ellis: There is also regional money from the prop 400 tax that has been set aside. Over $40 million from that tax. And we're doing all of this because the Metro organization will be submitting an application for federal funding for next year for an additional $75 million through their small starts program through the FTA.

Ted Simons: Most of the federal funding has been procured. It is at $75 million.

Shana Ellis: Right. Even after that, there is a delta. There's still about $30 million that -- the region will need to come up with. But, again, these costs are just estimates. A lot of the environmental studies have not been done yet and we will really be able to then nail down what the costs will be.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about the streetcar that is being used. What kind of streetcar? Is this something that is similar to what we're seeing now in light rail cars?

Shana Ellis: Well, yes and no. And part of the public process we're going through is talking about potential streetcars. A few years ago, you really didn't have much of a choice of what your streetcar would look like. Now there is quite a few companies out there. Because there is funding available. That have streetcars. The streetcars that you see now in Tucson and in Portland are much smaller than a light rail vehicle. The light rail vehicles that we have right now in Phoenix are over 90 feet long. And the streetcars that you see are typically between 68 and 75 feet.

Ted Simons: Interesting.

Shana Ellis: So, they're a lot smaller.

Ted Simons: And these are -- obviously we are seeing lines overhead on some shots we're looking at right now. Will we see lines overhead in Tem,pe, battery-powered -- what are we going to see?

Shana Ellis: That's part of the discussion. Technology is evolving even as we speak. We would prefer to have battery-operated in the downtown area due to the tree canopy and kind of the character of the downtown area. But if that technology is not available at the point in time when the streetcars need to be ordered, we may have to look at overhead lines through the area.

Ted Simons: That's an interesting point. If you do look at overhead lines, the trees in downtown Tempe, pretty well known -- I mean, where will the -- where will the streetcar be, in the middle, on the side where we're seeing bike lanes, where?

Shana Ellis: It will actually share the lane of traffic. There will be cars in front of the streetcar and behind the streetcar. It is not a dedicated lane. As far as the tree canopies go, there are quite a few communities that have streetcars that have tree canopies similar to ours and it seems to interact just fine with the overhead lines.

Ted Simons: Something that is a problem in terms of interaction is businesses. We have seen this with light rail and they are very concerned regarding construction. What kind of impact do you see construction having on the businesses in especially in downtown Tempe?

Shana Ellis: Right, and that is a concern. And it has been a concern for light rail. But the construction for a streetcar is much different than a light rail. Mainly because the stops don't need to be created the same. The stops look more like a bus stop than a light rail stop and they will share a lane of traffic. We will need to do some construction and temporarily shut down those lanes, but it will not be the construction that we saw with light rail. And even with light rail a lot of those businesses there both valley Metro and the cities that light rail have had construction have done a lot of hand holding with the businesses and allowed them additional signage and that type of thing so that people could easily get to and from their businesses. But I will say the businesses along the route have been overwhelmingly supportive of the streetcar.

Ted Simons: We have 107 -- $195, whatever it is, million dollars here. Digging up some ground -- why is this so important to Tempe? You mentioned hoping for battery powered cars and the stops looks like bus stops -- sounds like a bus system it me. Why not a bus system?

Shana Ellis: That is a good question. We get asked that all of the time. Once the track is laid, a lot of economic development follows. We have seen that with our light rail line. $1.4 billion investment so far has generated about $7 billion in return. With a bus stop, you can easily move it at any point in time. And, so, many instances, including Tucson, our most recent streetcar that we have seen, there is a lot of investment that goes on the moment that you announce you will have a streetcar in the area. I will say in talking with a lot of the businesses that have chosen to build and locate in downtown, they -- one of the reasons that they choose it is because of the transportation system and streetcar.

Ted Simons: More of a permanence there. You know it is not going to be moved.

Shana Ellis: Right.

Ted Simons: Time table?

Shana Ellis: We will submit an application to the FTA next fall. We hope to hear by early 2016 and construction could start in early 2016, as soon as we get word. And we predict that opening day would be in 2018.

Ted Simons: 2018.

Shana Ellis: Uh-hmm.

Ted Simons: Still full council still needs to look at this, is that true or is that -- has that been a done deal?

Shana Ellis: The council will look at it again on January 8th. And it has been to our city council quite a few times over the last few years to decide certain components. The idea of a streetcar, that has already been decided by resolution by the council and by the public and businesses and all of the input that we received. What we're talking about now are just some of the additions, additional stop, what kind of propulsion will be used and that type of thing. A lot of the smaller decisions that need to be made. As far as the streetcar itself, overwhelmingly support for that.

Ted Simons: We will look forward to, 2018 -- no sooner than that.

Shana Ellis: It will be here before you know it.

Ted Simons: Take your word for that. Good to see you.

Shana Ellis: Thank you.

Shana Ellis:Councilmember, Tempe;

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