Glendale council narrowly backs plan for light-rail route in city
by Glendale Chamber of Commerce on May 25th, 2016

​By Jeff Grant, Daily News-Sun and yourwestvalley.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. – The City Council, in a 4-3 vote, has endorsed a plan to extend Valley Metro’s light-rail network into downtown Glendale via a 5-mile route supporters say will draw economic development while detractors say ignores less-disruptive options to mainly small businesses and other entities in that area.

The proposal backed Tuesday before a three-quarters full council chamber that included speakers on both sides of the issue, still requires passage from the Phoenix City Council and, later, the boards of both Valley Metro and the Maricopa Association of Governments, according to Valley Metro interim CEO Scott Smith.

Construction would not begin until early 2023, and the line would not open until mid-2026.

“This is not the final decision, but it is a significant milestone,” Smith said following the 2-hour hearing.

The preferred path would take a double-track configuration into Glendale at Camelback Road; proceed north along 43rd Avenue, west on Glendale Avenue, and then quickly jogging north to Glenn Drive via either 51st or 52nd avenues. There would be five stations. The city and Valley Metro will study the feasibility of taking the line to an end point just west of Grand Avenue near 58th and West Palmaire avenues, according to Megan Casey, community outreach coordinator for Valley Metro.

“How it would fit into street; traffic configuration and station sites? We’re continuing to look at that this summer and fall,” she said.

While a final cost figure has not been arrived at, earlier estimates were at least $900 million.

Valley Metro and the city are relying on several non-general-revenue sources to pay for the project, including Federal Transit Administration funds they must compete with other transportation projects around the United States for, noted Smith.

“Every year money is appropriated for transit construction across the country. There’s more requests for dollars from the federal government than there’s money available. You have to score high; (and that means) meeting deadlines for engineering and environmental studies, community input, ridership figures, economic-development potential. Right now, we feel very good and the FTA feels very good about how this West Phoenix-Glendale route has scored,” he said.

The remaining funds would come from regional and local sources. Another 10-15 percent would be supported through MaricopaCounty’s regional transportation fund, which is fed by a half cent county sales tax enacted in 2004. The other 35-40 percent would be paid through Phoenix’s ongoing tax dedicated to transportation and from revenues off Glendale’s GO Transportation tax, a half-cent fee approved by city voters in 2001. Each city would split costs for the section along 43rd Avenue while paying entirely for portions within their boundaries. That works out to 4 miles in Phoenix and 3 miles in Glendale.

The Glendale light rail route was the final choice from a list that at one time had included several possibilities, but ultimately was judged to be the most cost-effective and the one that would draw the highest number of riders.

There also has been mention of at some point extending the line to Westgate and the University of Phoenix Stadium area, though that is not being considered at this point.

Voting for the plan Tuesday were council members Lauren Tolmachoff, Jamie Aldama, Sammy Chavira and Bart Turner. Voting against it were Mayor Jerry Weiers, Vice Mayor Ian Hugh and Council member Ray Malnar.

Supporters cited the added transit option and its economic potential.

“We are trying to move the city forward. These are the difficult moments when you’re elected. No matter what decision you make, there are going to be people unhappy on one side or the other. I believe this is the right decision for the city of Glendale,” said Tolmachoff, who represents the Cholla District.

“A 10-year-old kid today will be 20, needing to get to school and a job outside Glendale. You asked me to be a councilman with foresight not hindsight, and that’s what I’m doing today; build a better Glendale for business owners and residents,” said Aldama of the Ocotillo District.

Opponents pointed to concerns over lost merchants, especially small-business owners, affected by construction and the permanent change to their neighborhood.

“I have a car lot who’s guaranteed he will leave before light rail even begins construction. I know everyone talks of this as the wave of the future. I don’t understand how laying tracks down a perfectly good road to transport people where we have cars already bringing thousands upon thousands of people to downtown Glendale is a prudent way to spend money,” said Vice Mayor Ian Hugh of the Cactus District.

Weiers tried unsuccessfully to amend the resolution to include further study of a streetcar that would operate along with a light-rail line.   

“I am not opposed to light rail. I do not feel what we’re being given tonight gives us the best opportunity to make light rail as good as it could be. I truly believe that,” the mayor said prior to his vote.

Earlier Weiers said he had sought several meetings with Valley Metro to discuss the idea, but never received such a session.

Prior to its vote, the council heard from nearly 30 speakers, split almost evenly among the plan.

Bobby Casares, a lifelong resident who lives in the Ocotillo District, said a decision by voters 15 years ago to endorse light rail as one of a series of transit options to be backed by the half-cent sales tax hike is outdated.

“That was before the recession. That alone should change the thinking of everybody here. I’d like to maintain the kind of (community) ambience (downtown). Put this before voters,” he urged the panel.

Frank Johnson of the Cholla District said while he doesn’t oppose light rail, he is concerned about the route.

“Glendale Avenue is a narrow two-lane road. Can you envision (it) with traffic going in both directions and trains going both directions plus stops, plus parking? I just don’t envision that. I think we need more study on the exact route,” he said.

Supporters of the plan cited economic benefits and the need to diversify transit.

“There are a lot of businesses we’ve talked to that have said they would invest in downtown Glendale. This is an economic driver for us. This is a catalyst to drive in new traffic to Glendale,” said Robert Heidt, Jr., president and CEO of the Glendale Chamber of Commerce.

“In the next 50 years, the Valley will go by millions. Light rail is a very important part of our transportation system. Take it across Grand (Avenue), and connect to Surprise and Buckeye. I’m looking out 50 years, which is what you have do,” said former vice mayor Yvonne Knaack, a member of the citizens working group that recommended the plan.

“We all realize there will be hardships on the businesses. I have friends and clients in the audience who are adamantly opposed to this, and I hope I still have their friendship after tonight. (But) after all the studies we’ve done over decades, it’s time to put the rubber to the road,” she said.

Contact reporter Jeff Grant at 623-876-2514 or jgrant@yourwestvalley.com


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