There’s a very interesting batch of transit news out of Arizona:
- Highway builder extraordinaire, the Arizona Department of Transportation, has initiated a study of passenger rail on the Phoenix-Tucson I-10 “Sun Corridor”, explicitly acknowledging in the associated video that as population grows, it becomes impossible to fix traffic congestion with more freeway lanes.
- The rock-ribbed conservative Phoenix suburb of Mesa has become a surprisingly enthusiastic partner in extending Valley Metro’s light rail system into central Mesa. Mesa appears to value the light rail extension both as a dramatic improvement to mobility and a tool to spur a pedestrian-oriented revitalization of its downtown. They learned the hard way that you need to get the zoning right.
- In addition, Mesa has traded in millions of dollars of new roads and expressway construction in favor of fast-tracking a further eastward extension of the light rail system to Gilbert Road, beyond the Central Mesa extension above. Knowing Mesa, I’m frankly astonished this could ever happen.
- Phoenix has scraped together the money to pay for a western extension of the light rail line, which had been deferred almost indefinitely after the near-collapse of the city’s tax base in the housing crash. The city has also found the money to begin a pilot of a limited-stop express service to the south of downtown, to test the demand for faster transit on that corridor.
- The Tucson Streetcar is coming along nicely.
- (UPDATE) The Phoenix Sky Train airport people mover is nearly done. Phoenix Sky Harbor chose to connect its main terminal to the light rail station years before the rental car center.
I have personal reasons for caring about Mesa and Arizona, but if you don’t, why should you care? I think you should, because when progressive ideas about transportation and land use start to take root in such wildly hostile territory as Arizona, we’re perhaps turning the corner in the national debate about transportation and land use.