On September 12, 2014, the City of Phoenix received notice of a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT Grant) to support the next phase of planning, environmental assessment and conceptual engineering for a five-mile extension of light rail along Central Avenue, running south from Downtown Phoenix to Baseline Road. This light rail extension should be of interest to property and business owners on the existing light rail lines, those owning or operating businesses downtown or near South 7th Avenue, South Central Avenue and South 7th Street, as well as those interested in future real estate development in South Phoenix, and those who could become involved in professional services or construction operations associated with light rail as the Project moves forward.
In April 2014, the Valley Metro’s Alternatives Analysis Report for the South Central Corridor determined that light rail was a superior alternative to increased bus service or street cars, and recommended the light rail corridor run on Central Avenue, rather than Seventh Avenue or Seventh Street. Phoenix then applied for TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) funds and received the DOT Grant.
The currently proposed route for extending light rail southbound runs from a connection point with existing light rail at Washington Street and First Avenue (one way street, southbound) until First Avenue merges onto Central Avenue near Hadley Street, just north of Buckeye Road. Southbound tracks would then run on Central Avenue all the way to Baseline Road. Northbound tracks would also run on Central Avenue, extending north from Baseline Road until the connection point with First Avenue near Hadley Street. Northbound tracks would then either (i) continue running north on Central Avenue to a connection on Washington Street, or (ii) divert onto First Avenue, running parallel to the southbound track, but against the one-way street traffic. The decision turns on additional traffic studies, engineering and right of way issues to be addressed with the new funding from the Federal grant.
The current studies cite a number of statistics documenting South Phoenix’s young age, lower household income, and frequent use of public transportation. While the right of way acquisition expenses are subject to study and evaluation under the new grant, preliminary “rule of thumb” estimates place the cost of acquiring right of way at between $14.5 and $44 million, depending on whether or not Central Avenue is widened south of Interstate 17, in order to preserve two lanes of traffic in each direction.