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Light Rail extension drives into central Mesa

GOING EAST: The light rail's extension into downtown Mesa should receive funding in 2012. As of now, the light rail extends only one stop into the city. (Photo by Sierra Smith)
GOING EAST: The light rail's extension into downtown Mesa should receive funding in 2012. As of now, the light rail extends only one stop into the city. (Photo by Sierra Smith)

Editor's Note: Because of reporting and editing error, the following story has been corrected. Our previous story was misleading by stating that "The extension will allow Polytechnic students to be more connected to ASU’s Tempe and Downtown Phoenix campuses." This is not accurate. According to Google maps, the Polytechnic campus is more than 20 miles away from the current, most eastern light rail station. We apologize for the error.

The Metro Light Rail has plans to extend its line pass the Mesa Sycamore Street stop into central Mesa.

The 3.1-mile, $200 million Central Mesa light rail extension will travel through downtown Mesa on Main Street from Sycamore Street to Mesa Drive, said Metro Light Rail spokeswoman Hillary Foose.

The extended portion of the track is set to open in 2016.

In August, the Federal Transit Administration granted Metro Light Rail funding for the project. With this funding, Metro Light Rail was able to begin the project’s design phase.

Metro Light Rail is requesting a total of $75 million from the FTA for the Central Mesa project.  For fiscal year 2012, $38 million will be granted, Foose said.

“This commitment from Washington is a great sign for the Central Mesa light rail extension,” said Mesa Mayor Scott Smith in a press release.  “This project will have tremendous impact as a real economic driver for Mesa.”

With the FTA’s approval, Metro Light Rail was able to begin the design phase in September.

The capital cost of the project is also shared by the countywide, voter-approved transportation sales tax and federal air quality funds.

“The new extension will have four stations and we’re still evaluating the necessities and feasibility of a park-and-ride [lot] to be stationed at Mesa Drive,” Foose said.

These four stations, approved by the Mesa City Council, include Alma School Road, Country Club Drive, Center Street and Mesa Drive.

“I definitely support the light rail expansion,” art history sophomore Jennifer Williamson said.  “I think it will make the greater Phoenix area more cohesive … it’s nice to feel interconnected with the city.”

Some physical construction activities will be underway by 2012, Foose said.  However, formal track construction will not begin until 2013.

“The extended light rail service will reduce congestion, create economic development in addition to being a mode that moves people from A to B,” Foose said.

Metro Light Rail and the city of Mesa are working together to create business assistance programs to support existing businesses during construction of the line.

The outreach program administered by Metro Public Involvement and the city of Mesa Office of Economic Development aims to encourage economic activity.

“I attend a lot of shows, and the Nile Theater and Mesa Center for the Arts is right in downtown Mesa, so the light rail extension would make it a lot easier for me to get there,” political science sophomore Nick Mckee said.

Metro Light Rail is also planning six additional extensions, one of which would possibly connect the West campus in a 57-mile system by 2031, Foose said.

The future extensions would add Phoenix, Paradise Valley and Glendale to the light rail system.

“As we grow, more people can take advantage of transit, and so our job is to provide people with mobility options so the further that we get out into the Valley people can take advantage of the service,” Foose said.

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