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Ten questions about light rail, answered

PhxLRT2
It's the tenth anniversary of the completion of metro Phoenix light rail (WBIYB). I'll have a history of the project in a special insert of the Arizona Capitol Times. In the meantime, some common questions and answers.

1. What decided the route of the starter line? It was a combination of demand, available right-of-way, and cost. The line follows the route of the old Red Line bus, which was at 125 percent of capacity by 2000. This ensured high ridership and a favorable outcome in federal funding (with an invaluable assist from the late Rep. Ed Pastor).

2. Why was it built at grade rather than as a subway or monorail? Cost. While both those modes — especially a subway — would have been preferable to street running, the funding was not available. The federal government once spent heavily for such subways as the D.C. Metro and Atlanta's MARTA (originally meant for Seattle), but that aid largely ended by the 1980s. Monorails also have the problem of controversy about being unsightly to some, although the Skytrain in Vancouver, B.C., part overhead and part subway, is highly successful.

3. Did Mesa almost miss out on light rail? Yes. The most conservative big city in America was especially wary of the project, and the starter line might have ended at McClintock Drive in Tempe. If so, it would have been very expensive to eventually build into Mesa. Mayor Keno Hawker played a leading role in securing city council approval of the line to Sycamore. This set the table for extending light rail deep into downtown Mesa under Mayor Scott Smith (now Valley Metro CEO). With Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa on board, this helped the metro area rise in the national competition for federal assistance.

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