The Valley Metro Rail just got an extension to the west side of Phoenix.
The Northwest Extension Phase II rail project was completed and started operating on Jan. 27. The extension adds 1.6 miles to the route along with more rail stations that feature art to represent the surrounding communities and a four-story parking garage.
"We are expecting 3,000 plus additional riders a day with this extension," said Juliana Vasquez-Keating, a Valley Metro public information officer. "And we know that's going to include students, because that's some of our highest ridership."
The Thelda Williams Transit Center, named after former Phoenix Mayor, Thelda Williams, could further connect the West Valley to the East Valley.
"(Students) will be able to take the light rail from Tempe or Downtown to the new end of the line at Metro Parkway, and they can head downstairs to the Thelda Williams Transit Center and hop on a bus to get to ASU West so it brings them a lot closer to that campus," Vasquez-Keating said.
The extension was funded by Prop 400 and the Phoenix Transportation Plan 2050. Phase II was intended to launch in 2026, but the United States Department of Transportation awarded the city of Phoenix and Valley Metro a $158.1 million grant for the project. The total cost of the project was around $401 million.
The new transit center is expected to serve as an anchor for a renovation of the Metrocenter area, the site of the former Metrocenter Mall. Phoenix City Councilmember Ann O'Brien said the area is the focus of a $1 billion investment that should bring much-needed new development to the area.
"(This) will bring nearly 3,000 housing units as well as commercial and retail spaces, a private park (and) a private amphitheater," O’Brien said. "So this is the beginning of the complete revitalization of this area. It will mean so much, not just directly to Metrocenter, but the surrounding communities as well."
The ribbon-cutting ceremony was hosted by Valley Metro CEO Jessica Mefford-Miller on the first floor of the transit center and featured live music, free food and coffee for attendees.
"(The) light rail is a wonderful collection of people. It is one of those unique spaces where people come from all backgrounds and different life experiences together," Mefford-Miller said. "And we’re pleased to be extending our reach to more people in this community through this project today."
The project started in 2020 and was completed two years ahead of schedule – but not without facing obstacles during construction.
Andrew Haines, project manager for civil design for Jacobs Engineering Group, the project contractor, explained how the bridge that extends over the I-17 Highway needed to be redesigned in order to avoid building a pier beam foundation on the freeway.
"One of the project goals was to span over I-17 without any piers. If we put a pier over the freeway, it's gonna shut traffic for quite a bit of time," Haines said. "We did a construction sequence where we were able to close down the freeway for one weekend, and the fabricator was able to put all the pieces together over the freeway and open it back up by Monday morning."
While constructing the new tracks, the Phoenix Department of Transportation also planted 200 new trees along the tracks to add shade and replace the damaged palo verde and mesquite trees with pistache trees. The pistache tree will stand better against the seasons and will provide shade for the area.
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, when talking about how she would use the light rail, referenced her son with some travel ideas.
"I have a seven-year-old, and I love the idea of taking him to Castles N' Coasters on the rail. Cool mom points."
Edited by Grey Gartin, Alysa Horton and Shane Brennan