If commuter rail ever comes to the East Valley, Queen Creek wants it to make a stop downtown.
"Because we have a railroad track that crosses our community diagonally, since the very first general plan there has been discussion that if the time ever comes when there is commuter rail, we would like a station and a stop in our downtown," Town Manager Cynthia Seelhammer said.
Rittenhouse Road in Queen Creek runs parallel to a set of Union Pacific railroad tracks. The six to 10 trains that travel the tracks daily often exacerbate traffic jams at one of the town’s busiest intersections — Rittenhouse and Ellsworth roads.
But some day, town and regional officials say, a second set of tracks may get commuters out of those jams. The Town Council approved a resolution supporting the investigation of a Valleywide commuter rail system earlier this week.
Commuter rail, not to be confused with the 20-mile Metro light-rail line under construction from west Mesa to Phoenix, would run along existing rail lines. Union Pacific has tracks through Queen Creek, Gilbert, Mesa, Tempe and Chandler. The tracks extend to downtown Phoenix, where other lines follow Interstate 10 to the West Valley.
The Maricopa Association of Governments plans to begin work in January to determine the scope of a study on commuter rail, said Eric Anderson, MAG’s transportation director. The association expects to hire a consultant next summer to complete the probably yearlong study.
MAG will be meeting with Union Pacific officials over the next few months, he said. A commuter rail system could cost up to $2.6 billion, as parallel tracks are likely needed so the freight lines aren’t tied up with commuter trains.
"The railroads are really concerned about the ability to serve their freight customers because that’s where they make their money, they don’t make it in commuter service," Anderson said.
Though commuter rail, if it comes, is probably decades away, Queen Creek wants to be in on the process.
"We don’t know that this is anything that is likely to happen soon, but it certainly deserves some analysis and study, particularly as our roads become more crowded, people continue to move into the Valley, and the cost of gas gets more expensive," Seelhammer said. "We know that some of the west side communities have been advocating this issue, and we’d like to make sure that the east side is included as well."