Businesses along Tempe’s light-rail line are urging the city to ditch plans for gravel along the track in favor of concrete — an upgrade that would cost millions.
Merchants and homeowners along Apache Boulevard fear the gravel will become a trash magnet and hurt decades of efforts to spruce up one of Tempe’s most blighted areas. Concrete will cost $5.5 million more than gravel, also called ballast, but many along Apache say it’s worth the cost.
"Can you imagine a freight train track coming down the middle of Apache Boulevard?" said Bob Stafford, owner of the Apache Palms RV Park. "That’s what it’s going to look like if they have the ballasted tracks."
That sort of concern has captured the attention of Tempe’s transportation committee and the City Council, which will discuss the issue at its Thursday meeting.
Whatever is decided, Tempe residents and businesses will have to live with it for decades.
That’s because it’s impractical to pave along the tracks after initial construction. A line with concrete along it requires different drainage features — and a different type of track.
But paving along the track takes an extra $2.3 million a mile. That comes to about $ 4.4 million for Apache and about $1.1 million for a segment along Terrace Road.
Tempe’s City Council and Valley Metro Rail officials agreed to use gravel two years ago, primarily for cost considerations. But Tempe City Councilman Len Copple said it’s worth considering the extra cost.
"If it were not too much more expense to make it happen, I would prefer to have the paved track," he said.
Valley Metro Rail has planned to use gravel along most of the 20-mile segment, except in downtown Phoenix. But recently, businesses along Central Avenue in Phoenix said they wanted pavement from McDowell to Camelback Roads.
That action seems to have sparked interest in pavement along Apache Boulevard, though Tempe resident Phil Amorosi said many businesses have always opposed gravel.
"In the grand scheme of things, the paving is the way to go because it’s definitely going to be more aesthetically pleasing," said Amorosi, chairman of the Apache Boulevard Project Area Committee.
Valley Metro spokeswoman Daina Mann said a tall curb along the tracks will block views of the gravel for most people at ground level.
Some have considered gravel a safety feature because it requires a tall concrete curb that will discourage pedestrians from crossing at unauthorized locations.
If concrete is used, it would not include the curb and more pedestrians might cross, Mann said.
Mann said Tempe must decide within a couple months because officials are preparing to seek bids for the $1.1 billion construction project that will start this summer.