Light rail expansion plans have been quite the topic of discussion today due to reports in the paper and because of a Mesa city council presentation this morning where Metro recommended the extension of light rail down Main Street in Mesa. The route appears to make a lot of sense to Metro and to the council, as the questions and comments at the presentation appeared to favor an extension along Main Street. Many of the reasons to favor the plan have to do with demand, development and potential for growth. The high cost of light rail was analyzed against other options and is thought to be superior in long term costs and return to the community, by moving more people and creating economic development opportunities in the region.
There has been a great deal of study and analysis on three different routes for light rail expansion in Mesa, as well as bus and rapid bus along the same corridor. Several months ago, discussion centered around Mesa expansion, costs and parking questions, and the feeling was (in my opinion) that Main Street made a lot of sense. Some new options have been made since then, with one ending the line just east of Mesa Drive at Lesueur Street, instead of at Horne. Apparently, some opposition has come up near the Horne area due to parking challenges and neighborhood concerns. For those familiar with Main Street in Mesa, Lesueur is directly west of Pioneer Park on the north side of Main with the mormon Temple on the south side of the street. Currently, there is vacant land at the NW and at the SW corner of Lesueur and Main where they could add a small park and ride structure. This park and ride lot could be closed or re-developed if a new park and ride lot is built after future extensions are added.
There are some neighborhoods nearby that would likely see some real change, and the proximity to Pioneer Park could bring a fun and interesting dynamic to the equation. Historic homes and small businesses near this area could benefit from the fixed mode of transportation that would run through downtown Mesa, where there have been revitilazation plans for as long as most of us can remember. Many are of the opinion that the direct route along Main is the best choice. With it's street-facing shops, Main could really thrive with these transit-oriented developments. Other benefits are the fact that less property would be needed if they go straight along Main, as opposed to heading to 1st Street or First Avenue before continuing east; and the fact that a direct route east on Main is faster, because of the time it takes to make the additional turns. If the goal is to get further east and to move people efficiently, then taking the tracks off of Main Street would be un-wise.
While funding is always a huge hurdle, it appears the current extension is a piece of the larger puzzle whereby the system can be extended to Gilbert Road and even serve the Gateway area in the distant future. This morning, I recall Mayor Scott Smith saying that it "opens up a whole new world if we get to Gilbert Road", and he went on to mention that the return on investment getting to Gilbert Road is significant. Plenty of talk surrounded the fact that billions of dollars in economic development have been attributed to light rail in Phoenix and Tempe via the initial 20 mile "starter line." Mesa, with just a mile of track, is looking to get some of those large economic development dollars to their city, which may seem odd to those that still think of Mesa as having a "small-town-mentality".
For now, no "official" decision has been made as to the light rail extension, but there is mention of a city council meeting on May 18 where a decision could be made. This morning's meeting was pretty interesting and a few other topics were discussed. I'll try to add more in the near future… 🙂