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City of Tempe moves ahead with streetcar project

A rendering shows what the future Tempe streetcar will look like running down Mill Avenue. (Photo courtesy of Valley Metro)
A rendering shows what the future Tempe streetcar will look like running down Mill Avenue. (Photo courtesy of Valley Metro)

With plans for the Tempe streetcar project underway, the city and its residents are looking to the future.

The Tempe City Council approved a measure during a meeting on April 14 to move forward with construction plans for a streetcar — a sort of bus on rails — in downtown Tempe. Construction will start in 2017 and is expected to conclude in 2019, according to Valley Metro.

La Bocca Urban Wine Bar + Pizzeria general manager Brent Parker said the construction would affect his business in the short term, but that he expected the streetcar to benefit his restaurant and the surrounding area in the future. La Bocca is located on Mill Avenue at Seventh Street, so the streetcar would pass right outside the restaurant.

“It definitely will make it easier for a lot of the students, because a lot of the housing is through that little strip,” he said, referring to the area around the corner of Rural Road and Apache Boulevard where several off-campus student-housing apartment complexes are located.

“I try to be open-minded with things like that,” Parker said. “Obviously, when you start a project like that, you can’t construct it immediately for the full vastness that you would like it to be. You have to do it in kind of a baby-step idea.”

Parker compared the project to the construction of the light rail that started ten years ago.

“Some people complained that (the light rail) didn’t go far enough, or here or there, but you’ve got to start somewhere,” he said.

Current plans call for the streetcar to run from Marina Heights on Rio Salado Parkway to Mill Avenue, loop around Ash Avenue and continue south to Apache Boulevard, where it would link up with the light rail station at Dorsey Lane.

Urban planning senior Enrique Bojorquez said he didn’t see the point of the streetcar project, given the area’s other transit options.

“That might not have an impact, especially when there’s a lot of transit going over there,” he said.

Bojorquez said he would rather the city use the money to expand other transit infrastructure beyond the downtown area.

“I think that would have a lot more of an impact, a lot more riders, bringing more people over here than just placing the streetcar over an area that’s already served pretty well,” he said.

Valley Metro spokesperson Corinne Holliday said the streetcar was intended to augment existing transit options, not replace them.

“From a Valley Metro perspective, the streetcar is an important addition to developing a multi-modal transit system in the region,” she said. “It supports the existing transit system and community, with its ability to attract new riders and increase mobility and strengthen existing neighborhoods.”

Parker, the restaurant general manager, also said there were other transit options in the area that already served his business and the surrounding area, including Valley Metro buses, the light rail and the free Orbit circulator buses.

The streetcar project is expected to cost the city about $4.2 million, according to city of Tempe documents. The total cost will be about $177 million, according to Valley Metro.

“It almost seems like it’s not going to be as beneficial as it could be for the cost,” Parker said. “That would buy an awful lot of Orbit buses.”

Related links:

Valley Metro to increase times for students on Rural Road route

Tempe adopts transportation master plan to make city more bike-friendly

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