Tempe considers modern streetcars on Mill Ave., transit to Chandler - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Tempe considers modern streetcars on Mill Ave., transit to Chandler

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Posted: Tuesday, June 15, 2010 4:13 pm | Updated: 2:20 pm, Thu Apr 7, 2011.

Tempe is studying two downtown routes for a modern streetcar that will link the city's center with areas to the south - perhaps eventually as far away as Chandler.

Planners will spend the summer evaluating options, including whether the downtown Tempe path should run on Mill or Ash avenues.

The initial idea was to run the streetcar on Mill, but the city is now looking at whether Ash would be a better alignment in the downtown. Placing the tracks on Ash would avoid disruption on Mill and could bolster development on the much less active Ash.

The city hasn't formally weighed the pros and cons yet, but is seeking public input to see if it's worth a full evaluation of the Ash route, said Dawn Coomer, a senior transportation planer for Tempe.

"Right now we don't know if it's a good idea or not," she said. "We're asking if it's a good idea to explore."

The first opportunity comes Wednesday, at an event where planners will share streetcar options with the public.

Tempe and Valley Metro Rail have been studying the streetcar since 2007. The streetcar would initially start at the light rail line in downtown and end at Southern Avenue. A future expansion would have it turn east on Southern, ending at the community center and library at Rural Road.

From that point, bus rapid transit or some kind of rail system could eventually run south on Rural, turning east on Chandler Boulevard to connect with Chandler Fashion Center. The Rural Road service lacks funding, but officials are still planning for it because they see a high demand for it.

Tempe wants the streetcar to bolster the section of Mill it will run along, much like the 20-mile long Metro rail line has spurred development along formerly desolate parts of Apache Boulevard.

But the streetcar would have a different character than rail. It would share the street with traffic, rather than having its own lane. Also, the line would likely run along the sidewalk instead of in the middle of the road. The 2.5-mile stretch would have six stops.

The streetcar was chosen instead of light rail because it's a more intimate type of transit.

"It really is a good technology for this corridor," said John Farry, Metro's director of community and government relations. "It operates well in mixed traffic, it's compatible with on-street parking, it shares the lanes with buses and cars, it's safer in high-pedestrian areas." The bus-size streetcars would carry about 1,110 to 1,600 passengers a day in their first year, Coomer said.

"That is our initial estimate of ridership," Coomer said. "We haven't included special events and in Tempe, you know we have a ton of special events."

The line would open in 2017, following about three years of construction.

Streetcar construction would likely be a less disruptive proposition than the light rail work. The streetcar is lighter, so crews don't have to dig as deep into the street or move as many utilities. The utility relocation is the most agonizing part of construction.

Tempe would not have to buy as many properties as the Metro rail line required, Coomer said.

"There might be a couple of spots at station locations where we need little slivers of right-of-way," she said. "At this point, we're not expecting any major right-of-way-takes."

Planners will do more detailed studies later this year to determine the exact scope of work, Farry said.

The project will cost $150 million to $175 million. Up to $75 million would come from the federal government, and local and regional money would fund the remainder.

If You Go

What: Tempe and Chandler transit study meeting

When: 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Pyle Adult Recreation Center, 655 E. Southern Ave., Tempe


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