Mayor Scott Smith said light rail going through downtown would create a vibrancy and energy "that we can't even imagine right now"
I guarantee that after light rail is completed downtown Mesa will still be the most boring place in Arizona. That is after wasting the $184 million and driving half the downtown stores out of business.
Save Mayor Scott Smiths quote so it can be used to come back and haunt him.
Light rail in downtown Mesa gets go-ahead
Sonu Munshi, Tribune
May 18, 2009 - 9:46PM
Light railís coming through downtown Mesa.
The Mesa City Council voted 7-0 Monday night to approve Metroís recommendation to extend light rail along Main Street through downtown, from Sycamore to Mesa Drive, and also approved to continue an ongoing study about light rail as a mode of transportation to go up to Gilbert Road, along Main Street.
The approval came after a nearly two-hour-long meeting, the bulk of which was spent listening to comments from about a dozen downtown business owners, retailers and other Mesa residents who questioned bringing light rail through downtown. Their concerns ranged from the disruption of downtown businesses and the possibility many could get wiped out during the construction phase, to others who believed taking light rail to the Fiesta Mall area and Mesa Community College, or on First Street, serving Mesa Centennial Hall, the city museums, Mesa Convention Center and the Mesa Public Library, would better serve the needs of the public.
Some such as Mesa resident Steven Anderson described the public meetings held earlier and the hearing Monday night as "a formality," claiming the decision seemed to be a foregone conclusion from the outset - that light rail will stay on Main Street, plowing through downtown.
But the council cited the findings of the two-year Metro study, which concluded that the best alternative for extending light rail would be one that passes through downtown, instead of digressing from Main Street on to First Avenue or First Street, particularly because of the high cost - up to $21 million more if it veered from Main Street. That cost would largely be to acquire properties through eminent domain.
Main Street also carries the highest projected ridership, at 4,300 daily, and there would be no need to use eminent domain.
Representing the downtown business owners, Debbie Berge, who owns a building on Main Street, earlier told the council that many of the business owners had invested their life savings in Mesa and were finally seeing the fruits of struggling through several construction projects already, including a $14 million streetscape project completed about eight years ago.
"We're confident they will not be able to survive," said Berge.
Another business owner, John Richards, stated that their concerns were not being answered, including whether the city would help business owners through this process.
"Are we going to survive this?" asked Richards.
Councilman Dave Richins, a passionate light-rail supporter, acknowledged the concerns about the construction phase being hard on businesses.
"Construction is going to be difficult, let's not sugarcoat it," said Richins.
But he also urged Mesa residents to support businesses in that phase, to shop at the stores and patronize downtown restaurants to help them survive.
Mayor Scott Smith also characterized the concerns as "valid," but he said with sufficient steps by Metro, with its contractors, those negative impacts could be mitigated.
Smith said light rail going through downtown would create a vibrancy and energy "that we can't even imagine right now."
"I think that having those trains go right through the middle of downtown will bring people into the city center, they'll see the stores, they'll get off and walk ... it will create a dynamic that we truly haven't thought of."
The cost of the 2.7-mile extension project, which is scheduled to have four rail stations and a park-and-ride lot, is estimated at up to $184 million, $10 million less than the budgeted cost for the project.
Money for the extension project would come from a combination of a 2004 voter-approved half-cent sales tax and federal dollars. Mesa would have to pay for maintenance costs. City transportation officials estimate that to be in the $4.5 million range annually once the extension up to Mesa Drive is complete, for a total of 3.7 miles of rail line in Mesa.
Construction for the extension up to Mesa Drive is still tentatively scheduled to begin in 2012, but because of the economic downturn, and a dramatic sales tax revenue shortfall, the opening date might be pushed back about a year. The extended portion was previously estimated to start running late 2015.
Metro corridor planning manager Marc Soronson told the council that the alternatives, some raised by the citizens present, had been thoroughly studied and that given all the factors, Main Street was still the best alternative. Soronson also said that Metro would phase construction in such a way that the downtown Mesa portion would be focused on in the lean, summer months, between May and October, for minimal disruption of businesses.
Vice Mayor Kyle Jones said at the outset, he had favored First Avenue or First Street but changed his mind once he saw the benefits. He also said he had made it clear that the streetscaping not be damaged, something Metro is planning for already.
Smith said he views this extension as more of a regional project, one that needed to be supported, and not just a local, Mesa project.
Also Monday night, four people expressed support for the extension through downtown, including resident David Crummy, who said that while the construction phase was a hiccup for businesses, it would help them in the long run by bringing many more people to the area.
"Light rail through downtown is imperative," Crummy said.