Light rail glides on Valley tracks into history - East Valley Tribune: News

Light rail glides on Valley tracks into history

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Posted: Saturday, December 27, 2008 7:16 pm | Updated: 9:27 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Moments after the ceremonial opening of the Tempe Transportation Center on Saturday, which was 90 minutes after a similar ribbon cutting in Phoenix celebrating the start of the Valley's light-rail service, the first train pulled out of the station headed west.

VIDEO: Light rail officially open to public

SLIDESHOW: Light rail arrives!

Moments after the ceremonial opening of the Tempe Transportation Center on Saturday, which was 90 minutes after a similar ribbon cutting in Phoenix celebrating the start of the Valley's light-rail service, the first train pulled out of the station headed west.

VIDEO: Light rail officially open to public

INTERACTIVE: Light rail rider's guide

SLIDESHOW: Light rail arrives!

Getting There: Light-rail stories left on tracks

Not aboard were Jean Polowski and Pat Reilly. The Scottsdale residents stood at the platform's far end and so were the prospective passengers closest to the just-departed cars.

Congratulations, Jean and Pat - you might be the first riders of Metro to miss their train.

Saturday was a day of firsts in the Valley, as the most ambitious public-transit system in the state officially opened for business. Across the 20 miles of the Mesa-to-Phoenix line, built at a cost of $1.3 billion, there were festivities in honor of a new way of commuting, if not life.

"This is not a Disneyland ride," U.S. Rep. Harry Mitchell said during the Tempe ceremony. "This is the first phase of a light-rail rail system that will help us reach a shared vision of a livable, sustainable and economically vibrant urban corridor."

Later, as Arizona State University student Hannah Rosen crossed the tracks near Sun Devil Stadium, she cautioned her friends against being an unfortunate pioneer: "Look both ways; you don't want to be the first person to get run over."

By the early afternoon, at the Sycamore/Main Street station in west Mesa, the line for free rides was hundreds deep. And the trains on the move appeared so loaded, it was as if subway cars from New York or Tokyo had suddenly appeared in the desert.

Metro spared Polowski and Reilly a long wait in the cold morning air, as a train from Mesa arrived in Tempe a few minutes later.

Before they boarded, disembarking was Pat Sarna, who might be the first person riding Metro to run an errand. The Tempe woman's granddaughter was one of the volunteers working the street party in front of the transit center, and the girl's booth was in the shade - where it was frigid, to say the least.

Sarna and daughter Jean, visiting from Texas, drove to the park-and-ride lot at the Price-101 Freeway/Apache Boulevard station, got on a train and within a few minutes were coming to the girl's rescue.

"We're bringing a warm coat," Sarna said.

Exclaimed Jean: "It's freezing!"

Indeed, it was on Saturday morning, helping to explain why crowds seemed slow in coming out for the fun. According to the National Weather Service, the Valley's official low temperature of 34 degrees was the coldest of 2008.

The 8 a.m. ceremony kicking off Metro's service took place at the transit agency's Operations and Maintenance Center, located less than 2 miles from the weather service's thermometer at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. There, the overnight freeze added an odd element to the speeches, as frost covered the speakers' platform and, as noted by Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman, turned a podium made of clear plastic into what looked like an ice sculpture.

But the weather gave Mesa Mayor Scott Smith a setup for the best line of the day: "In the early days, one of the most ardent opponents (of light rail) said, 'In Mesa, light rail will appear when Hell freezes over.'"

Another first on Saturday was the debut of Valley Metro Link, a high-capacity bus line that will connect Mesa's one and only train station to the transit center at Superstition Springs Center.

Mesa resident and new Link driver Mustafa Badou said he was only on the job with Valley Metro for a year and half before being selected to drive the light-rail companion buses.

"It's exciting," Badou said as he greeted visitors boarding his bus for a free ride from Sycamore to the shopping mall. "It's just a good thing."

Badou smiled as he pulled the silver, green and purple urban limo off into the traffic of other buses ferrying people eastward.

Also opening to the public was the Tempe Transportation Center, a 6.6-acre hub of trains and buses. The city is most proud of the site's three-story, 40,000-square-foot office building, which is a marvel of design aimed at environmental consciousness and energy efficiency.

With such touches as vegetation on the roof and a windowless western wall so as not to allow entry for the blistering afternoon sunlight, deputy public works manager Carlos de Leon said, Tempe expects its energy use to be half as much as a typical building of the same size.

Free rides continue through New Year's Eve.

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