Mesa breaks ground on Light Rail extension

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MESA, Ariz. -- The city of Mesa broke ground Wednesday morning for the newest part of the Valley Metro Light Rail. The 3.1-mile stretch will give access to more people who live in the East Valley.

The $200 million extension will add 3.1 miles from the system's busiest station on Main Street and Sycamore, which is where the Light Rail currently ends, down to Mesa Drive. Four additional stops and a Park-and-Ride lot will also be built.

City officials say the added service through the heart of downtown Mesa will be a big boost to businesses in the area.

But not everyone agrees. Even though thousands more riders will be expected to take advantage of the Light Rail every day once it's completed, some business worry that construction will hurt their bottom line.

"Access, noise, dirt," are among some of the issues Donna Thornton is concerned about. She owns Grandma's Kitchen on the corner of Country Club Drive and Main Street, right before the downtown strip begins.

"They [the city] says they'll keep Country Club open, so hopefully I"ll be OK, but we'll have to wait and see," she said.

Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said as with any construction project, there will be some issues.

"But the city is working with business owners and doing a number of things to help them through this time," he explained. "We want businesses to thrive." 

The first step in the project will be to move utility lines. This alone will be a big undertaking, but Smith says operations at stores and restaurants will not be affected by this. Crews will work on laying down the tracks sometime next year.

Valley Metro expects the new stretch to be ready by late 2015.