Valley Metro Project to Bring Light Rail Line to the Deserts of Arizona

Wed October 05, 2005 - West Edition
David S. Chartock

A new light rail transit system (LRT) now under construction in Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa, AZ, is finally bringing mass transit to the desert, according to Alan Wulkan, senior vice president and transit industry director for Parsons Brinckerhoff in Tempe.

“The Valley Metro LRT will be the largest public at grade, in-street LRT system in the U.S,” Wulkan said, noting that “it will also be different in that it is being constructed in a part of the country –– America’s southwest desert –– that is better known for its urban sprawl and highway development.”

Being developed at a cost of $1.3 billion, the Metro Valley LRT will alleviate traffic congestion, improve air quality and serve as impetus for economic development in Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa, Wulkan pointed out.

Initially, the LRT will serve a 20-mi. route beginning in late 2008. However, voters approved a referendum in November 2004 that will eventually add 30 mi. to the system.

Parsons Brinckerhoff, the general engineering consultant, has been involved with the project since its inception –– including feasibility studies –– working for Valley Metro Rail and its partners, the cities of Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa and Glendale.

“The fact that the LRT is located in the desert means riders will be subjected to intense summer heat,” Wulkan explained. “As a result, the system’s 27 stations must ensure rider comfort, while blending in aesthetically with their surroundings and neighborhoods. Toward that end, each station’s design maximizes shade, safety and ease of use. They also complement their immediate surroundings and neighboring communities.”

Each station’s platform area will be 16 ft. wide and 280 ft. long. Platforms will generally be in the center of each station and the stations themselves will have shade canopies, louvered panels to provide additional shade, seating, drinking fountains, artwork and landscaping.

The system will include five transit centers with convenient bus access to stations; eight park-and-ride lots that will total 3,365 spaces; a maintenance and storage facility, which is currently under construction; and a security system that will include closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras at each station, security lighting and an emergency phone system.

In addition to security, system safety measures will include a curb separating the tracks from automobile traffic, signals to warn motorists and pedestrians of the tracks and approaching trains, bells to warn passengers, pedestrians and motorists of arriving and departing trains, and flashing headlights and turn signals when audible warnings are initiated as a visual warning for the hearing impaired.

Another unique feature of the system will be a new, 1,531-ft. long, steel truss bridge with a concrete deck over the Tempe Town Lake. The bridge will be located between the existing Mill Avenue bridges and an historic railroad bridge. It will feature a fiber-optic lighting system that will provide a unique visual effect at night.

Unlike many recently constructed LRTs in the United States, the Metro is a design-bid-build project.

“This project delivery method was best suited for the project because it requires a substantial commitment to traffic signal prioritization for the light rail vehicles and integration with existing traffic signal systems of the cities being served,” said Wulkan.

In line with this integration is a very aggressive public outreach effort to gain local community input and to alleviate concerns, he said, adding that public involvement has already led to a design evolution from ballasted track to paved track along the entire length of the system; it also played a key role in the final designs for many of the stations.

This system will initially run two-car trains from an initial fleet size of 36 cars. The cars are being manufactured by Japanese LRT-car manufacturer Kinkisharyo.

Each 92-ft. long car will feature low floor entries, four hanging interior bicycle racks, flip-up seats for wheelchair-bound passengers, air-conditioning, the aforementioned CCTV cameras, speakers for passenger announcements, and a metallic silver and teal paint scheme. There will be 66 seats, a standing capacity for 173 additional passengers, two driver cabs and the ability to travel up to speeds of 55 mi. per hour using 750-volt DC traction power system.

The system also has been designed to accommodate a high level of special event and off-peak riders. It will serve the America West Arena, where the Phoenix Suns play; Bank One Ballpark, home of the Arizona Diamondbacks; Arizona State University’s Sun Devil Stadium and its basketball arena; the Sky Harbor Airport; and other points along the route, he explained.

By 2020, Wulkan said, between 45,000 and 50,000 riders are expected to be using the Metro Valley LRT on a daily basis. This initial 20-mi. system is expected to be operational in late 2008. CEG