Valley Metro picks preferred light-rail route through west Phoenix into downtown Glendale
by Glendale Chamber of Commerce on February 11th, 2016

By: Paul Giblin, The Republic

Transit officials propose building a Valley Metro light-rail line along a zig-zagging route to reach downtown Glendale, a link that could be complete in about a decade.

The seven-mile route would extend west from 19th Avenue, pass Grand Canyon University, Alhambra High School and Glendale Civic Center, and terminate near Glendale City Hall.

The route, which Valley Metro officials call theCamelback Road/43rd Avenue option, follows years of intense debate and study that eliminated five other West Valley alternatives.

The recommended route best meets existing and future transit needs, said Megan Casey, Valley Metro community outreach coordinator. Among the factors:
  • Projected high ridership
  • Access to schools and employment centersHigh potential for economic development
  • Proximity to downtown Glendale, government buildings and other "activity" centers
Valley Metro officials published a study supporting the recommended route on Jan. 19. The next step in a long process to connect the West Valley to the existing light-rail network is to brief the Phoenix and Glendale city councils during public meetings in April.

Pending approval from both city councils, the plan would need the OK from Valley Metro's Rail and Regional Public Transportation Authority boards and the Maricopa Association of Governments Regional Council later in the spring.

After the final design for the Camelback Road/43rd Avenue line is penciled out, transit official would bring it back to the Glendale and Phoenix city councils for another round of approval.

Light-rail extension cost

Light-rail projects typically cost between $80 million to $130 million a mile, depending on factors like the number of stations, bridge structures, traffic configurations and more, said Susan Tierney, Valley Metro communications manager
That formula puts the cost of the Glendale route somewhere between $560 million and $910 million.

"Once a West Phoenix/Central Glendale Corridor Study route is further defined and approved, cost estimates can be developed based on these factors," Tierney said in an email.
Casey said cost is an important factor, but it's only one of several factors that makes it competitive for federal funding.

Transit officials expect 50 percent of the funding to come from federal sources, 10 percent to 15 percent from regional taxes, and the remaining 35 percent to 40 percent from municipal transportation taxes in Phoenix and Glendale.

The seven-mile light rail extension is projected to cost between 
$560 and $910 million. 

The anticipated funding sources are: 50 percent in federal funding; 10 to 15 percent from regional transit taxes; and 35 to 40 percent from Phoenix and Glendale transit taxes.

Route passes GCU, Alhambra High, businesses
As proposed, the extension would connect with the existing light-rail line at 19th Avenue and Camelback Road.

It would run west on Camelback roughly three miles, across Interstate 17, and past Grand Canyon and Alhambra schools, then turn north at 43rd Avenue for two miles through a mostly commercial area.

At Glendale Avenue, the line would turn west again for roughly a mile through an area lined by several abandoned car dealerships.

Around 51st Avenue, the light-rail line would jut north a block to West Glenn Drive, then head west again for a mile through light industrial and residential areas before terminating just past the Civic Center, a block from City Hall.

The route would feature seven stations, each about a mile apart.

Transit officials estimate the initial seven-mile route would attract 8,250 commuters on weekdays, largely because of its proximity to schools and its path through population centers. That's 340 riders a day more than the next-best route that officials considered.

Grand Canyon officials have been involved in discussions concerning the project, but the private Christian university has maintained a neutral position.

University President Brian Mueller said, "If the recommendation is made to extend light rail onto Camelback Road past our campus, we will work with the city and our neighbors to make the necessary accommodations."

Grand Canyon has 15,500 students on campus. It's on pace to reach 30,000 within four or five years, said university spokesman Bob Romantic.

Alhambra has about 2,900 students.

With a thumbs-up from both councils in March or April, transit officials will further develop the details, notably the I-17 crossing, traffic configurations along city streets, specific station locations and details of the 51st Avenue leg.

The 51st Avenue section could cause a conflict of interest for Glendale Councilman Ian Hugh, who owns a tire shop at the corner of 51st and Glenn. A years-long construction project at the edge of his shop's driveway would be certain to affect business. He represents one of seven votes on the council.

Preserving downtown Glendale
Transit officials specifically opted for the Glenn route to avoid bringing the light-rail line through historic downtown Glendale along Glendale Avenue, its main thoroughfare, Casey said.

Glendale officials were concerned about the potential for congestion and disrupting business. Glendale Avenue narrows from five lanes to four lanes at 55th Avenue. Near downtown, Glendale Avenue is lined with antique shops, funky boutiques and other family-owned businesses.

The Glendale business community generally has come to support the concept following months of meeting with transit officials, said Robert Heidt, president and CEO of the Glendale Chamber of Commerce.

"Through that journey, I've watched people who were, 'No! No! No! No! No!' to 'Oh, this is interesting. I kind of like this.' The group really came to consensus on the route," he said.

For the business leaders, the key elements are the proposed route along Glendale Avenue by the vacant car lots, and the jog north to Glenn at the edge of the historic district, Heidt said.
He envisions multipurpose developments springing up along the rail line, because mass-transit lines elsewhere have promoted a live-work-play mindset of clustering residential, business and entertainment venues.

"Downtown Glendale certainly isn't going to be one where we find high-rises like maybe you find in downtown Phoenix, but to have a four-story building where you have the mixed-use thing — maybe some retail and some office space and then maybe a condo or an apartment above — I think could be a reality," Heidt said.

While Glendale Avenue narrows through the historic district, making light-rail impracticable, the Glenn option would get riders within walking distance of downtown businesses, he said.

Officials in Phoenix and Mesa took the opposite approach, squeezing light-rail lines through the hearts of their cities, along Central Avenue in Phoenix and Main Street in Mesa.

Glendale City Council concerns
Glendale Councilwoman Lauren Tolmachoff, a member of Valley Metro's Regional Public Transportation Authority board, said she wants to learn more about the proposal. She has questions about the construction and operational costs, specifics of the undefined portions of the route, and its end point.

Tolmachoff, Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers, and other Glendale and Phoenix council members who also have seats on the Valley Metro and MAG boards, would have multiple opportunities to vote on the project.

Tolmachoff said she's uncertain about whether the Civic Center is much of a destination. "I'm really not crazy about the route recommendation, not what I've seen so far," she said.

A better terminus would be Westgate, which would give riders access to the shopping and entertainment district, plus University of Phoenix Stadium, Gila River Arena and Loop 101, Tolmachoff said. A Westgate end-of-the-line also would bring riders closer to Glendale Municipal Airport and industrial parks.

Even just getting the light-rail line west of Grand Avenue would make it more attractive, she said.



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