Last time we talked about the Tempe Modern Streetcar as part of the Tempe South High Capacity Transit Study, the proposed “loop” around Mill Avenue was mentioned along with a few thoughts on how it might work. Last night another public meeting was held with METRO, along with people from the cities of Tempe and Chandler, to discuss the Tempe South study. The meeting was interesting, even though it was basically the same information as the one in September. It was planned to be the same – they are just making sure people have an opportunity to learn, discuss and comment about the project.
While the Tempe meeting was certainly more vocal, the meeting last night in Chandler was a great opportunity for people to get questions answered about the process. Most people are not aware of the what, where, why and when of this project, so it is good that they allow people to electronically add comments to METRO on their web site.
So, let’s look at some of those questions.
WHAT: Modern Streetcar – An electric powered vehicle very similar to but smaller than our light rail cars. While a modern streetcar does run on tracks, they typically operate within lanes of traffic and not in their own lane like a light rail car. Many people think of a small trolley when they hear streetcar, but these are just smaller vehicles that make more frequent stops. Because they are so similar to light rail cars which run on a fixed track, the modern streetcar is also considered to be a catalyst for economic development in an area. The projected cost estimate for this 2.6 mile modern streetcar project is $163 million, which will be paid for using regional funds, prop 400 tax revenue, and federal grant money. Even though Tempe has been forced to make cuts to some city programs in this current economy, the funds allocated for this project can not be moved to other things. That might be bureaucracy at it’s finest, but them’s the breaks. While the City of Tempe doesn’t have to foot the entire cost of construction, they will be required to pay operational and maintenance costs in the $3.1 million range.
View Tempe Modern Streetcar Map – Stretching the Mill Avenue District in a larger map
WHERE: The proposed Mill Avenue Loop will run from Rio Salado to University on the North and South and between Ash Avenue and Mill on the East and West. The entire extension will be between Rio Salado and Southern Avenue. There has been some talk of having a “stub” at one or both of the Rio Salado turning points to be able to connect future extensions along Rio Salado easier. Phase two involves plans for the Modern Streetcar to go East on Southern to Rural and then possibly connect to a Rapid Bus route where other options still appear to be up in the air. Within the Mill Avenue Loop corridor, there has been interest in further developing Ash Avenue as well as properties / land inside of the loop. I have heard talk of an RFP to make changes in this area. Hopefully, we will learn more about that in the near future.
WHY: METRO CEO Steve Banta spoke at the meeting last night and mentioned a desire for a cohesive transportation system for the region. While the Phoenix light rail system makes most of the headlines around here, the connections to bus and eventually Modern Streetcar and High Speed Rail are constantly being evaluated. As far as the loop is concerned, the ability to shut down Mill Avenue during large events is looked at as a benefit to the loop. Any time I hear METRO speak about the system, the economic development opportunities seem to be a large focus. One of METRO’s slides showed that “for every $1 invested in rail transit, you can expect $1.30 in return in other community benefits.” Each of the extensions and all of the transportation modes are designed to work together in the region. Said Steve Banta, “we will not be successful if we don’t have the end user in mind.”
When: If the Tempe South extension makes it past the Tempe City Council on October 21st, it will then run through another process. ( I think MAG votes, after that it goes to the FTA ? ) If all goes as planned, we could see streetcars on Mill Avenue in 2016. See METRO’s Tempe South update on their site.
Many questions remain about the process, the possibility of changes to bus routes, connection with and to light rail, costs, station locations, car design, neighborhood impacts, and more. I bet we will find some time in the future to discuss…
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