Reflective orange construction signs are strewn through the Tempe streets, tracks are laid down around the city and construction workers don their neon vests – they all point to one thing.
The Tempe Streetcar is coming.
Construction for the project, which is set to open to the public in 2021, is still in its early stages. But plans for a 3-mile route stretching through downtown Tempe, ASU's Tempe campus and various residential areas are aimed to decrease vehicle traffic and provide more public transit options.
“The more choices we can provide people, the more they won’t have to drive,” said Amanda Nelson, the community relations officer for Tempe Streetcar. “Traffic is going to naturally increase with the density of the city, especially as Tempe builds further. This project seeks to help that problem.”
With a light rail, bus system and circulators currently in use in Tempe, those involved with the Tempe Streetcar project say the streetcar is a natural step for the transit-supportive community.
The streetcar will include 14 stops and two connections to the light rail and will run with the flow of traffic. It will operate on a hybrid battery in an effort to be as energy efficient as possible and will run off-wire downtown through Mill Avenue.
Because the construction is taking place in some of the heavily populated areas of Tempe, the communication between construction crews and business owners has been critical to the success of the project.
“Construction can be impactful, and we understand that," said Corinne Holliday, a public information specialist for Valley Metro. "We are all working with the community, especially ASU, to make sure any disruption is eliminated during construction.”
As a result of the number of stops and location of the tracks, residents and businesses in the area may be impacted by the Tempe Streetcar even after construction.
Russell Novy, who is a senior majoring in criminal justice and commutes from the Downtown to Tempe campuses for classes, said that the construction could affect his bi-weekly commute to Tempe.
Due to the large student community, most of the heavy construction will take place during summer months. Special considerations have been made for university events and finals as well.
For some businesses, the streetcar offers a potential new group of customers, said Edith Valera, a manager at Buffalo Exchange in Tempe.
“A lot of the people who come into our store are the same people who would use public transit instead of their own cars. It’ll be great to have a new wave of people and have a few stops in our area,” Valera said.
Each stop will feature original artwork, an addition that will take place later in the project’s timeline.
Multiple artists will install their pieces at the stops and the artwork will reflect the surrounding community at each location, Holliday said. Even though actual installation of the artwork is years away, she said the artists have already started working on their projects.
While he does have some concerns about his commute, Novy said the construction is ultimately a means to an end.
“Honestly, it’s going to suck. It’s construction," he said. "But, if it helps the traffic down there and people can get from place to place, I would say it’s well worth it.”