Decision on rail extension may wait-The Arizona Republic

Metro light rail planners could delay selection of a route for an extension through downtown Mesa until after the original 20-mile line opens in December 2008.

Plans call for the route’s selection about a year from now, but whether the line runs along Main Street, First Street or First Avenue has become a hot issue with downtown businesses worried that two years of construction could discourage customers and force them to close.

"There’s some discussion of postponing the selection until after the light rail opens. Let the streets re-open," said Marc Soronson, manager of corridor planning. "It’s been a much more conservative reaction. It’s been focused on construction impacts." If the extension selection was delayed, it might give Mesa residents time to ride the new rail line and see how the new system works, he said.

Mike James, Mesa’s deputy transportation director, said the three-month delay is time well spent on such an important and complex project.

"We need to take the time to address construction and look at the merits of these options, he said.Planners are considering all three corridors for the extension, which would open in 2015 and run to Mesa Drive. The extension would lengthen the system 2.7 miles past the Sycamore Transit Center, at Sycamore and Main Street, just east of Dobson Road.

Another option is bus rapid transit, a form of express service that would connect to the light rail to Superstition Springs Center. One route already is planned for 2008 but studies have shown that light rail has a much higher economic impact than any form of bus service.

Tom Verploegen, president of the Downtown Mesa Association, said his group needs more information from Metro before it can take a position on the corridor’s location.

He said the projected economic impact of each route must be weighed against the disruption and loss of short-term business. The cost of construction must also be considered.

While Phoenix and Tempe have regional downtowns, Mesa has more of a community-oriented downtown, Verploegen said.

"I don’t think it’s a cookie-cutter approach for everyone. Whatever’s good for one isn’t necessarily good for the other," he said.

Soronson said it would be possible to use the Main Street option and still maintain the present streetscape, including sidewalks, landscaping and parking, if the road were reduced to one lane of traffic in each direction. That also might deter pass-through traffic.

"These businesses have been somewhat stagnant. Is there a way we can do this and make Main Street a better place?" he said. "If we do something on Main Street that kills the businesses, then what have we gained?"

Jim Walsh

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