Mesa Light Rail Extension

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Light rail is scheduled to start operation into downtown Mesa later this month. There will also be some changes to bus routes. Mesa vice mayor Dennis Kavanaugh will tell us more.

TED SIMONS: Light-rail is scheduled toe be up and operational in downtown Mesa later this month. The extension means changes in mass transit schedules and changes in Mesa. Here now is the city's vice mayor Dennis Kavanaugh. Good to have you here.

DENNIS KAVANAUGH: Thank you, Ted.

TED SIMONS: Good to see you again, now when will this extension actually open?

DENNIS KAVANAUGH: Well, believe it or not it's opening seven months early, ahead of schedule, on budget, on August 22.

TED SIMONS: August 22. Now where will the new track go?

DENNIS KAVANAUGH: The new track will be extending from the existing station at Dobson/Sycamore station over to just past Mesa Drive, about a 3.1 mile extension.

TED SIMONS: So, 3.1 miles. How many more -- four more stops there?

DENNIS KAVANAUGH: four new stations, yes. They will be at Alma school, Country Club Center and Mesa Drive.

TED SIMONS: How about park and ride areas?

DENNIS KAVANAUGH: We'll be adding - right now we have a large park and ride at Sycamore station, about 800 spaces. We'll be adding another large one at Mesa drive with 500 spaces.

TED SIMONS: 500, huh. These park and rides basically anyone and their brother can park there, jump on the light-rail, spend all day, come back, pick up your car and go.

DENNIS KAVANAUGH: Makes it pretty easy.

TED SIMONS: new riders, how many expected?

DENNIS KAVANAUGH: About 5,000

TED SIMONS: Per day?

DENNIS KAVANAUGH: Per day, yes.

TED SIMONS: and do we know who these new riders are going to be?

DENNIS KAVANAUGH: Based on our existing demographic it's a whole lot of folks. A lot of students, a lot of people going to events downtown, Tempe, or into Phoenix. People just going to work. Commuting. People going to doctors' appointments. During the day is really very consistent even outside of rush hour. That was a big surprise to us in analyzing the ridership throughout the years. Very good cross-section of society.

TED SIMONS: And as far as the cost for this extension, what are we looking at?

DENNIS KAVANAUGH: It was $199 million.

TED SIMONS: so just below 200.

DENNIS KAVANAUGH: just below 200.

TED SIMONS: How funded?

DENNIS KAVANAUGH: Combination of federal and state funds. This particular project was 60% federal and 40% local/regional money.

TED SIMONS: the importance to downtown Mesa in general, the importance to Mesa in general, but because we hear criticism all the time, it doesn't make that much of a difference. The businesses that are there suffer through so much construction they can never survive. What are you seeing out there? I know what you want to see. Realistically are those criticisms valid?

DENNIS KAVANAUGH: not really because what light-rail does throughout the country, what it's done in the valley, what it will do for Mesa, it increases connectivity. For us in Mesa particularly it increases connectivity to our arts and cultural institutions in downtown Mesa, the three museums, the Mesa Art Center. It increases access/connectivity to educational institutions, for colleges that are in downtown. It creates connections to our Mesa convention center, adds additional support and connection to go to spring training. For us, it really opens up a lot of possibilities for connecting people from the rest of the valley to downtown Mesa.

TED SIMONS: in addition to connectivity we always hear when light-rail is discussed development and development plans are always a factor there. What do you think?

DENNIS KAVANAUGH: economic development is really a key factor on any light-rail line. I think we just released analysis here in the valley showing there's been about 8.2 billion of investment along the original 20-mile segment. We have anticipated now about $90 million of new investment along the central Mesa extension. We think that trend will continue. We're looking to see new housing. We already have new housing coming in in downtown. Hopefully other kinds of businesses occupying space that's vacant or under-used. We think it will strengthen our historic neighborhoods there as well but housing is one of the things we expect to see happen.

TED SIMONS: in Tempe and Phoenix they have learned that it really helps to get residence near light-rail in the downtown area. Are there plans? Can we see construction relatively soon?

DENNIS KAVANAUGH: Right. You'll see we had new housing opening last year in downtown at Center and 1st avenue that's already undergoing an expansion. We have had a lot of interest from other developers on sites downtown that are vacant. For example Brown and Brown Chevrolet is a very large parcel that's vacant now and so that's providing opportunity for new housing there. You're getting interest in rehabbing the houses in the historic neighborhood. The area just south of Main Street I think offer a lot of opportunities for new housing there. But we're getting inquiries from people doing loft housing, that typical urban type of housing with retail and offices.

TED SIMONS: what are you hearing from the businesses down there?

DENNIS KAVANAUGH: well, we learned a lot from the first 20 mile extension. We learned that you really have to have rapid response teams to work with businesses that might have a driveway blocked or power off. We engage them from the very beginning on where the station should go, what the design should be, so I think a lot of them took ownership interest in the project and over all I think if you ask them they have survived. They are looking forward to the opening. They've had a lot of say in how the construction has gone. I think that's helped. That's going to help us for further expansion.

TED SIMONS: let's talk about that. What's in the plans? What's in the cards?

DENNIS KAVANAUGH: well, light-rail always takes a long time. The segment we're opening on the 22nd took eight years but we have been working on yet another expansion to pass Gilbert road and that is, the work is under way on that. That should be complete by the end of 2018.

TED SIMONS: And Gilbert, that's another three miles, five miles? How far is that?

DENNIS KAVANAUGH: It's about another two to three.

TED SIMONS: for those who say and again we have so many debates on this program about light-rail and mass transit, they will say it's wiser and less costly to use buses over light-rail. Just use buses. They are more portable, you don't have to build all this concrete, this infrastructure. It would make more sense economically and serve citizens better to emphasize buses and quit spending so much on light-rail. How do you respond?

DENNIS KAVANAUGH: Well light-rail works really well when you have dense populations. Buses are an integral part of that. You can't have a successful light-rail without a very strong bus system as well as a circulator network. We have seen that at the Sycamore station in Mesa. Really it's as symbiotic relationship between bus and rail. Oftentimes what you'll see in communities is the bus service will increase, your population will keep getting denser. You may have buses going guide ways and ultimately as your population grows you can replace that much easier with light-rail.

TED SIMONS: Interesting. Last question. You have been in Mesa a long time. You've seen that city in a variety of ways. I would say 15 to 20 years ago Mesa would be the last city in the valley people would think would even want or consider light-rail. Are you surprised?

DENNIS KAVANAUGH: About 15 to 20 years ago I was one of those advocating for light-rail. I am pleasantly happy that it's come this far. We have had kind of a great community energy involved in mass transit. A lot of millennials have become engaged in the process. A lot of people like baby boomers have suddenly realized for whatever reason I may not be able to drive in the future but I'm still going to be working and being active. I have to have ways to get around. It's an interesting combination of forces that have moved it forward.

TED SIMONS: The grand opening, the 22nd of August. I'm sure you'll be out there. Good luck with that and congratulations on getting a vibrant downtown back up and operational.

DENNIS KAVANAUGH: Thank you, Ted.

Dennis Kavanaugh: Mesa vice mayor

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