How light rail could come to Scottsdale





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Mike Sunnucks and Eric Jay Toll Phoenix Business Journal Sep 17, 2015, 10:42pm MST Updated Sep 18, 2015, 10:04am MST

Sanjeev Ramchandra has a new dream: connecting Metro light rail to Scottsdale.

The idea of connecting Old Town and south Scottsdale to the light rail system makes a lot of sense to the rest of the region but has always faced stiff resistance in Scottsdale. Tourists, especially foreigners, business travelers and students, could be likely users of a rail link to Scottsdale’s bars, restaurants and events.

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How light rail could come to Scottsdale

Ramchandra is used to tilting at windmills. He’s long advocated for spinning off Arizona State University’s West and Polytechnic campuses from the Tempe mothership.

Now he’s got a new cause — how to bring light rail to Scottsdale.

Ramchandra’s idea is to run a rail line from the existing rail along Washington Street through Papago Park with stops at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, the Phoenix Zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden.

Those are all in the city of Phoenix where voters just approved the Proposition 104 sales tax increase and extension to fund a number of light rail extensions.

Ramchandra wants to bring the Metro system right to Scottsdale’s doorstep with the Papago Park line ending at near the Scottsdale border at Galvin Parkway and McDowell Road.

That could then be extended along McDowell to ASU’s SkySong high-tech center and eventually up Scottsdale Road to Old Town.

“I have created a plan to put light rail inside of Papago Park using Phoenix’s Prop. 104 funds as part of the regional transportation system,” Ramchandra said.

He doesn’t have cost estimates for the line but said there would not be expensive utility relocation costs to deal with in the park.

The line could also help boost customer traffic to the Phoenix Zoo and Botanical Garden and help with Scottsdale’s redevelopment efforts along McDowell Road where a number of car dealerships have left or gone out of business.

It might also bolster ASU’s SkySong center, which is home to technology companies often with pro-transit workforces and company cultures. The Scottsdale line would also link ASU’s 51,000 students at its Tempe campus to Old Town’s bars and restaurants.

The rub is Scottsdale still doesn’t want light rail and it would have to fund an extension to SkySong and Old Town.

In the past, Scottsdale officials have opposed a light rail link all the way down Scottsdale Road to Tempe. The new plan offers an alternative route.

Transportation experts told the Business Journal that light rail on heavily traveled Scottsdale Road would severely impact traffic capacity. Depending on design and acceptable lane width, two or three lanes would be lost to the rail right-of-way.

Without any consideration for funding sources, some transit experts believe that the other challenge is that there may not be adequate ridership density within one-half mile of likely station locations.

While the potential exists for a shift in development density along light rail, as with Phoenix and Tempe, the transit-oriented development trailed light rail by a number of years. Additionally, the rail route would have to be split down Drinkwater and Goldwater drives through the downtown area. The distance between those two streets is significantly further than the distance between First and Central avenues and Washington and Jefferson streets, where the directions split in Phoenix. That separation would be inconvenient for riders.

Some say that it makes sense to run light rail as far north as McDowell Road to connect with SkySong, but there’s extreme cost in building light rail to serve as a student shuttle. College and high school students make up a significant share of current light rail ridership.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said after Prop. 104 passed in August that connecting more areas of his city via light rail will help more students attend and obtain college degrees.

The Scottsdale Transportation Plan, which is currently to be drafted for public review next year, could address light rail or explore other transit options for the main city corridors.

Mike Sunnucks writes about residential and commercial real estate, government, law, sports business and workplace issues.





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