By Gary Nelson
The Republic | azcentral.com
Evidently, a streetcar linking Mesa and Tempe is desired.
Representatives of Tempe, Mesa, Arizona State University and Valley Metro, the regional transportation agency, have agreed to conduct an early financial analysis of the project, according to the minutes of a Jan. 7 meeting.
The parties are looking into whether a public-private partnership would work, as opposed to funding the line entirely with tax dollars. That could bring the project to fruition far more quickly than if it had to stand in line for scarce public money.
Documents pertaining to the meeting do not mention a price tag or a construction timeline.
Tempe and Valley Metro already are in the thick of planning a streetcar line from Southern Avenue to Rio Salado Parkway on Mill Avenue. At Rio Salado, it would jut west to Ash Avenue, south to University Drive, and then east back to Mill.
The total route would be 2.6 miles for an estimated cost of $129million, of which $73 million already is available. It is part of a regional transportation plan approved by Maricopa County voters through Proposition 400 in 2004, but it also depends on federal grants.
Valley Metro spokeswoman Hillary Foose said even though the Federal Transit Administration has not approved funds for the Mill line, it recently signaled continuing interest in the project.
The original plan, however, might need tweaks to accommodate new federal rules that require cities to show a transit project would boost economic development.
Valley Metro did some preliminary environmental-assessment work last year in downtown Tempe, but Foose said that process is only partially completed.
The Rio Salado line would be a separate project.
“Rio Salado has been on our radar for some time as a potential streetcar corridor,” Foose said. “Historically, it’s been in addition to the modern streetcar project along Mill Avenue.”
The Rio Salado route covers 3.9 miles from Mill Avenue to Dobson Road.
From the heart of downtown Tempe and Tempe Town Lake, it would pass Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe Marketplace and the Chicago Cubs complex before arriving at Mesa Riverview shopping center.
It also would pass ASU property that includes Packard Stadium and Karsten Golf Course. The university is looking into major redevelopment of those sites as a funding source for Sun Devil Stadium renovations.
The corridor recently lost one of its potential draws, however, when ASU and the Cubs could not reach a deal that would have allowed ASU to use the stadium under construction at Riverview.
The Jan. 7 meeting was attended by ASU President Michael Crow, mayors Scott Smith of Mesa and Mark Mitchell of Tempe, and Valley Metro CEO Steve Banta.
They envision forming a formal partnership as the process moves along and agreed on the following steps:
» Valley Metro will work with the Arizona Department of Transportation to determine whether a public-private partnership could develop the streetcar system.
» ASU will conduct a “value for money” analysis as to whether the project would pencil out. If the numbers look good, a full feasibility study would be conducted, including early design work, an active search for funding and partners, and more analysis of land-development opportunities along the route.
» ASU will conduct a design charrette, which would visualize potential development along the Rio Salado corridor.
Streetcar lines, according to Valley Metro’s website, typically use tracks like light rail, but the cars are smaller and stop more often. They can be powered either by overhead lines or batteries.
Transit officials nationwide have gravitated toward fixed-track systems in recent years because they spur more economic development than bus lines, which can be moved at will.
Officials saythat whereas redevelopment along light-rail lines typically occurs near the stations, streetcar tracks tend to spawn new projects along their entire length.
Rio Salado Parkway in Mesa is a new name for Eighth Street between Country Club Drive and the Tempe border. The City Council approved the change late last year to help brand the Mesa-Tempe corridor.