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Phoenix Overview - July 2004

Riding the Rails
Work to Start on $1.3 B Light Rail Project
By K. Robert Wendel

Work is about to start in earnest on an ambitious plan to remake the Phoenix area's transportation system, with the new, $1.3 billion, 20-mi. light- rail system.

The project stretches from northwest Phoenix through downtown and then east to Tempe and Mesa.

Although construction on the first line sections isn't scheduled to begin until January, designers and contractors from around the Valley are already hard at work on various aspects of the project, which is slated for completion in 2008.


Crews from FNF Construction of Tempe are in the final stages of a $2.3 million bridge job that becomes the main access for a new, $64 million maintenance and storage facility near 52nd Street and Washington. Officials from Valley Metro, the region's mass transit authority, are eyeing an August start on the new facility, which will handle up to 100 cars.

The project is funded through a combination of sales tax revenue and bonds issued by Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa, and federal funds. More than 60 engineering firms are involved, and once the project is moving along, 250 to 300 subcontractors will be involved. Some of the contracts require a two-step proposal while others will be hard bid.

Many of the project's details are still working through the system, but Valley Metro officials said the project would have a profound impact on transportation as well as economic development.

"Every city struggles with an urban core, but light rail has been a factor that has transformed cities where it is built," said Valley Metro CEO Richard Simonetta. "In some of the Western cities, you find development that could have occurred anywhere occurs on the rail line. Rail helps organize development in a corridor that can sustain density."

Although the project has faced opposition, rising gas prices, more freeway congestion and recognition of the benefits of light rail are winning people over.

"There are a lot of folks involved and we are experiencing a lot more support than objections," said Fred Tallarico, an engineer with the Phoenix office of Carter & Burgess, a project administrator. "More and more people are recognizing the Valley needs mass transit. The light- rail line will definitely get used."

The massive project is being bid in five line packages, with sections ranging from 2.27 mi. to 5.39 mi. in length. Each section is scheduled to take two years to construct.
AZTEC Engineering has the first line segment and David Evans & Associates has the second line segment. Both are Phoenix firms. The Phoenix offices of Stantec Consulting and Jacobs Civil have sections three and four, with HDR working on section five.

The system begins at 19th Avenue and Bethany Home Road in northwestern Phoenix with the first of 28 passenger stations. The line then jogs to the east at Camelback Road and 19th Avenue, moving along Camelback before taking a turn to the south on Central Avenue.

The line heads east again at Washington Street and follows that alignment to Priest Drive, where a bridge will carry the rail cars over Tempe Town Lake. The line jogs through Tempe and then straightens out on Apache Boulevard, continuing east to the final stop on Sycamore Street and Apache Boulevard/Main Street in Mesa.

The actual railway consists of two steel tracks embedded in concrete. Original plans called for an application of gravel, but public concerns led designers to choose concrete, except in Mesa. The system operates on two parallel tracks with the rails protected by a curb. The rails are standard gauge and the top of the rail is flush with the pavement.

Valley Metro recently spent $115 million to purchase 36 cars from Japanese manufacturer Kinkisharyo-Mitsui. Each car holds more than 150 people and weighs 50 tons, with initial plans to run two-car configurations. Valley Metro officials estimated the cars would run 10 to 15 minutes during peak load times and 20 minutes during off-peak times.

Designers are also planning for a six-minute schedule. The light rail cars can hit speeds up to 55 mph, although 25 mph is an average speed.

"These trains are very quiet," said Robert Ball, a project manager for Valley Metro.
"They are so quiet, that almost becomes a problem in itself," because people may not hear the trains coming.

Ball said Valley Metro is undertaking an extensive outreach program to educate citizens about light rail Valley Metro officials estimated the system would see 26,000 boardings a day, with that number nearly doubling to 50,000 boardings a day by 2020.
The system may be extended to Metro Center in Phoenix and into Glendale.

The light rail is powered by electricity from overhead wires mounted on 18-ft.- high poles. Fourteen substations along the route will convert the regular electric load to a nominal 750 volts DC to power the train cars.

The light- rail project is using a "predictive priority" system at intersections to prevent traffic back-ups and congestion and to protect motorists and pedestrians. Sensors will loop throughout the system to alert intersections when a train is arriving.

Architects have completed the preliminary designs for 28 stations and the five transit centers, where buses, parking areas and the light rail connect. In general, the stations are 280 -ft. long by 16 -ft. wide. Some of the stations are in the middle of the street while others are on the side.

Platforms typically contain ticket- vending machines, information on arrivals and departures, benches, shelters, lighting and other amenities. There is also an art budget for the stations and centers.

The stations were designed with the Valley's climate in mind and feature an extensive amount of shading. Designers teamed with Arizona State University and did extensive research into materials that could stand the test of time under the desert sun.

Designers settled on a polycarbonate coated and woven fiber fabric that doesn't gain a heat load. They are also perforated steel shades mounted both horizontally and vertically to achieve maximum shading.

"The first thing we looked at was addressing the shading and cooling needs," said Betsy Moll, the architectural manager for Valley Metro. "The woven fabric was the material that made the most sense in the desert heat.


>Phoenix Market Holding its Own
>A Friendly Place to Retire
>Downtown Rising
>Riding the Rails

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