It won’t happen tomorrow, or probably even five years from now, but Mesa is looking into its long-term options for a second light rail line that would run through the Fiesta District and might even head to downtown Chandler someday.
Mesa and Chandler caution that the possibility of any such line eventually opening depends on a lot of factors that are difficult to predict, such as the availability of financing and how Chandler develops in the future.
A 2012 study identified a potential corridor for high-capacity transit, which could include anything from light rail to express bus service or even a streetcar, such as the streetcar project planned in downtown Tempe.
A potential second light rail line would run south along Dobson Road from the Sycamore Valley Metro light rail station, turn east on Southern Avenue near Mesa Community College, pass Fiesta Mall and turn south on Country Club Drive.
Phase 1 of such a project would likely end at Country Club and Baseline roads in Mesa. Phase II would potentially run down Arizona Avenue to downtown Chandler.
The Alternatives Analysis study would consider several forms of transit. The Mesa City Council recently authorized $900,000 for the study, but Chandler officials have not decided if they want to participate, at a cost of about $600,000.
In 2019, Valley Metro would make a recommendation, including a route and the type of transit. No one has ever said light rail is cheap, although advocates cite its impact in curbing highway congestion and pollution, and its role in encouraging high density urban development.
A Mesa council report estimated the city’s share of the cost for light rail operations during the 2017-18 fiscal year at $3.6 million.
Jodi Sorrell, Mesa’s transit services director, said such major projects can take up to 15 years of planning. She noted that planning for the extension of light rail from Sycamore to Mesa Drive started in 2004 and the extension eventually opened in 2015.
“We’re doing the preliminary work to see if it is feasible,’’ she said, so that Mesa has a potential project ready to go years from now if funding becomes available.
With the presence of Banner Desert Medical Center, Mesa Community College and the Fiesta District, “we have more density, we have more bus ridership’’ that would make light rain a better option sometime in the future.
Sorrell is currently most concerned with the extension of light rail on the original corridor along Main Street, from Mesa Drive to Gilbert Road, a project now under construction and expected to open in spring 2019.
Light rail would be a more startling development in suburban Chandler, which is taking a cautious approach toward mass transit. Buses will start running at 15-minute intervals along Arizona Avenue starting in October for most of the day, rather than just during the rush hours, said Dan Cook, city engineer.
It might not sound like much, but at least that’s better than waiting a half-hour for a bus in Chandler during off-peak hours right now.
More likely than not, mass transit would become more available in Chandler in stages, with the addition of more frequent buses or express buses before progressing to the light rail, the most intense and expensive option, Cook said.
He said the issue of participating in Mesa’s light rail alternatives study is still under discussion internally among Chandler officials and has not come before the Chandler City Council.
“We don’t know if Chandler will ever meet the criteria in ridership to have light rail transit. We don’t know if we will every get there,’’ Cook said, noting the city’s lack of high density development. “The concept of staging through it is probably the way to do it.’’
– Reach Jim Walsh at 480-898-5639 or at email@example.com.