Recently, I attended a transportation committee meeting with the Tempe Chamber of Commerce where Wulf Grote, Metro’s Director of Project Development, gave us an overview of the Tempe South Alternatives Analysis. During the meeting, Mr. Grote mentioned that light rail is no longer an option as part of the analysis of the Tempe South Extension. When I mentioned that “light rail is off the table for the Tempe South extension” to some friends, I got a huge reaction. Questions like: Why? Where? and What the..
Basically, it sounds like their studies show that the “best” alternatives going south from the current light rail line are BRT (bus rapid transit) on Rural Road or a Modern Streetcar for Mill Avenue. Cost is obviously an issue, as is rider patterns, economic development opportunities, etc.
The modern streetcar on Mill is kind of a “light” light rail. The look, feel, cost of the cars and their function are similar to a normal light rail cars, but the streetcars can share a lane with traffic, as opposed to a dedicated lane for light rail. The stations for the modern streetcar are “simpler” and help keep costs down, as well. Wulf mentioned that modern streetcar construction is currently (approximately) $50 million PER MILE while light rail is “$80-$90 million per mile. Funding is more of an issue than in the past. Sales taxes are down so the cities feel the pinch. It sounds like funding is a little easier to come for some of these “small” extension projects, rather than trying to do a “large” project. Wulf also mentioned that the FTA is beginning to look more closely at the economic impact of projects when doling out the cash.
The BRT for Rural Road sounds like it is being looked at very closely. The cost savings is significant and there appears to be a big push to get people down Rural to the Chandler Mall area and the large job centers nearby. Light Rail on Rural Road is also huge for getting Scottsdale involved in the equation. Many people feel Scottsdale could use light rail for moving people and for it’s economic impact.
This one remains interesting. I’d be interested to see what people think of the options…