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Metro Phoenix Light Rail Puts Arizona Mass Transit on Track

December 22, 2008

Phoenix, AZ – Arizona's first modern rail transit system opens to the public in Phoenix Saturday. The state has been slow to embrace rail transit, with critics saying light rail is too slow, too expensive and won't carry enough riders. Advocates are hoping the new 20-mile Metro Light Rail leads to greater acceptance for public transit.

Metro Light Rail CEO Rick Simonetta says similar systems already are working well in major cities across the west.

"Dallas, Houston, Salt Lake City, Denver, Portland and now Seattle. These are all cities that were built around highways and freeways, and all of a sudden, now they're being retrofitted with light rail and it's hugely successful."

Expansion of the system might come sooner than anyone expected, says Simonetta. The prospect of nearly a trillion dollars in public works spending by the incoming Obama administration has officials proposing a long list of transportation improvements, including highways, airports and at least seven rail projects, one of which is more light rail.

"The first extension, which is a 3.2-mile project in the City of Phoenix, could be under construction within 90 days."

Other proposed routes for the eventual 60-mile Phoenix system are too early in the planning stages to meet the "ready-to-go" requirement of Obama's stimulus program. But, Simonetta says, light rail expansion and other transportation projects will certainly fulfill Obama's goal of putting people to work.

"We had 2,000 jobs created during the three years or so of construction for our first leg. And, of course, it takes people to operate the trains and maintain the trains and clean the stations. So, we definitely will employ people if any of these projects can go forward."

Nationally, light rail the fastest-growing form of public transit. Rides on the new system will be free through New Year’s Eve.

You can find more information at www.metrolightrail.org.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ