$638M in federal grants will help South Central light rail extension reach finish line

08 | 12 | 2020

Two federal grants paired with local money will bring the South Central light rail extension in Phoenix to full funding status.

Article originally posted here.

Over the weekend, the Federal Transit Administration announced it intends to award Valley Metro a $530 million grant for the South Central light rail extension and Downtown Hub construction, which will fund about 40% of the project, a Valley Metro spokesperson confirmed on Monday. The Federal Highway Administration also announced a $108 million grant to the project. The total development cost of the project is $1.35 billion.

“It is thrilling to see this grant agreement, which comes at a time when investment could not be more important,” Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, who serves as Valley Metro rail board vice chair, said in a statement. “We have been working towards this day for years and it is a personal passion for me because of the economic development, business, education and community connections that light rail can deliver.”

The project will add 5.5 miles of new light rail track extending down Central Avenue from downtown Phoenix. The Downtown Hub, which will create a corridor for transit and pedestrians only on Central Avenue between Washington and Jefferson streets, is also under construction. The remainder of the cost for the construction will come from the city of Phoenix’s T2050 sales tax and Prop 400 regional funds, according to a Valley Metro representative.

“We are grateful for the federal government’s continued support of public transportation in Maricopa County,” Valley Metro CEO Scott Smith said in a statement. “We are proud of our relationship with the U.S. Department of Transportation and FTA and look forward to delivering a project that will honor the life and work of the honorable Ed Pastor.”

The grant agreement is anticipated to be signed in January. The project has previously been awarded other large federal grants.

“This is a significant investment in south Phoenix and the entire Valley,” Arizona Senator Mark Kelly said in a statement. “By connecting south Phoenix with the rest of the Valley Metro light rail, this project will give folks a reliable transportation option and increase economic opportunity.”

Construction is set to be completed and the extension open for operation in 2024. According to Valley Metro, construction is remaining on track despite the Covid-19 pandemic. The transit authority has been able to take advantage of decreased vehicle traffic downtown.

“Today’s funding announcement of the South Central light rail expansion will create jobs, expand transportation options and grow Arizona’s economy,” Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema said in a statement.

The Valley’s transit authority has made some service changes as a result of the pandemic, including suspending and eliminating some bus routes and operating others less frequently. The organization has not had any furloughs or layoffs because of the pandemic.

With major downtown construction projects already ramping up in 2020, including recent Phoenix City Council approval for what will be the tallest office structure in the state, economic officials and developers say that building out the rail extension will usher in even more development in that part of the city.

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