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South Phoenix light rail expansion plans met with concerns

The Valley Metro light rail expansion leaves residents in the dark


People in downtown Phoenix wait to board the light rail on Van Buren Street and Central Avenue on Monday, Sept. 24, 2018. 

From ASU students to business commuters to members of the homeless community, the light rail has become a form of transportation for all people of Phoenix. However, with long-planned expansion of the rail-line in south Phoenix picking up steam, many residents have doubts. 

Still in the design phase, the expansion seeks to extend the light rail system in downtown Phoenix 5.5 miles to Baseline Road along Central Avenue. Though the expansion was voter-approved, many small business owners have banded together through Facebook group 4 Lanes or No Train to express their concerns. 

The Facebook group aims to alter the plans of the expansion so the roads would have both the light rail and four lanes of vehicle traffic instead of the proposed light rail and two lanes. 

However, some in the group question the intentions of the project.

“People seem to like the idea of the light rail because it’s more of a novelty item; it makes Phoenix sound cool. What it really does is create financial strain,” said Merissa Hamilton, director of constituent services for Councilman Sal DiCiccio.  

Taking the homeless crisis in Phoenix into account, Hamilton believes that the bus system would be much more beneficial to those living in poverty due to its hours and accessibility. 

“Busses are much more feasible financially for a lot of people," Hamilton said. "The money that is going to the light rail expansion could be much better used elsewhere. A lot of roads in District 6 are in disrepair, we need 24 hour transportation, funding for police officers and the ability to fix pension."

Another concern is the gentrification of south Phoenix which south Phoenix residents are concerned will bring more upscale developments and push out small businesses. 

“It’s important to recognize that south Phoenix is a unique part of the community. There are a lot of mom-and-pop shops, and that’s what the area is built on. But if you look at what’s going on, there’s development throughout the city and it’s done a lot of good for a lot of people,” said Public Information Officer of the Phoenix Transit Department Lars Jacoby.

The light rail offers an affordable means of transportation for ASU students. Currently stopping at the Downtown Phoenix campus and the Tempe campus, the light rail and university partnered in offering ASU students and staff annual and semester passes at lower rates.  

According to Jacoby, The Valley Metro Transit System wants to provide high-capacity transit for more than just students.

“South Phoenix is one of the more transit-reliant communities, and the goal of this project is to provide more efficient transportation to anyone who rides the bus every day," Jacoby said. "We want to give people a better way of getting where they need to go."

Olivia Stickel, a freshman exploratory major, lives off-campus and right next to the light rail in Tempe. Stickel used to live in D.C. in an area where a similar expansion took place.

She said the area housed more lower-income citizens and the city wanted to transform the area into an upscale destination.

"The people who lived there just wanted transportation and ended up with more outside traffic instead," Stickel said.  

With revenue services expected to begin in 2023, the light rail expansion also brings questions from residents on Central Avenue. Concerned for emergency services and businesses, Adri Ortega is one of many residents with questions left unanswered from the many public meetings regarding the expansion. 

“I don’t think it’s a good idea," Ortega said. "I live right off of Central, and the only way out is through Central. If they decrease the amount of lanes to one lane and a light rail, how will emergency vehicles get to us? Nobody has been able to answer that for me.” 

With the next City Council Special Meeting regarding the expansion planned for Sept. 26 and more meetings to come, discussions are still being held to answer community questions and address concerns. 

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Merissa Hamilton as a member of 4 Lanes or No Train. She has posted on the Facebook page; however, she is not a member of the group. The article has been updated to reflect this.

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