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New light rail extension coming to Phoenix

City of Phoenix has voted to extend the downtown light rail

"Welcome to the Grand Opening of the New Valley Metro!" Illustration published on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017.

Downtown Phoenix buzzes with beeping cars, students running from class to class, and the blaring of the light rail’s bell.

The light rail has long been a popular choice of transportation for students, but light rail usage by ASU students has decreased in recent years as more students turn to personal vehicles, according to JC Porter, the assistant director for commuter services in the ASU Parking and Transit office

Porter said U-Pass sales among students have dropped by over 13,000 since 2010. 

"We see a decrease of students purchasing the U-Pass to use the light rail and the Valley Metro," Porter said. "We are also seeing with the price of gasoline being so low, that more people go toward their vehicles because it's more convenient."

In 2015, Phoenix voters and the Phoenix City Council saw a need to connect downtown Phoenix to other parts of the city by extending the light rail. An acceleration on the motion was approved in January 2016.

The city recently started planning the project, called the South Central Extension, which is now in its design phase. Construction is set to begin in 2019.

The South Central Extension, which will be completed in 2023, is going to run five miles south from the Central Avenue station in downtown Phoenix and connect to Baseline Road. 

Joran Palacio, a freshman studying sports journalism, said he uses the light rail five days a week.

“I live in San Tan Valley and I don’t want to drive to school every day because that involves having a parking pass,” Palacio said. 

He said the light rail has been a reliable and cost-effective option so far. The light rail has helped many students on different ASU campuses get to where they need to go, whether they live on campus or not. 

Corinne Holliday, a public communications specialist for Valley Metro, said "there was a need to expand the transit options in the South Phoenix area."

Holliday said that it was a lengthy process of voting and conducting studies, but that the city is really excited about the project. She said it really opens the doors to students and community members that need to get to work, school and elsewhere in the city without a car. 

The city government is eager to begin this project as downtown Phoenix grows.

Passengers ride the Metro light rail in Tempe, Arizona on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017.

The city council and the voters thought that this project was important and something that they need to complete now. The Phoenix City Council approved a motion to accelerate segments of the light rail transit system, which included the South Central project. Together, the voters and the City of Phoenix passed the initiative for the extension, officially voted to fund it, and accelerated its opening date. 

Porter said that the light rail helps lessen that congestion and ease the effect that so many cars have on the environment.

“As ASU continues to grow, we are seeing more and more traffic in our streets,” Porter said. 

He said the light rail really just “helps provide access to campus,” while also decreasing traffic congestion.  

Porter said the ASU Parking and Transit office is not funded by student tuition and is completely reliant on parking permit revenue. 

This year, Porter stated that there has been a decrease in light rail pass sales but an increase in parking permit sales. With the new extension to the rail, ASU Parking and Transit hopes that more students utilize the light rail as now it will give students more mobility to come to and from school. 

The Valley Metro light rail sees about 16 million riders per year, according to Holliday. With this extension, that number will keep rising, connecting more people to various destinations. 

Porter said students will use whatever mode of transportation is most convenient for them. 

“…For some students, it’s more convenient to hop on the light rail or the Valley Metro bus to get to campus,” Porter said. This extension will not only provide a way for downtown students to explore the surrounding area, it will provide students in south Phoenix with job and education opportunities. 

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