Phoenix looks at tripling size of light rail system

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PHOENIX -- A new committee on transportation is considering whether to extend the light rail, essentially tripling its size. But the proposed project could end up costing taxpayers some big bucks.

When the current light rail system opened in 2008, it cost taxpayers about $1.4 million. To expand it, local leaders will have to convince taxpayers to dip into their pockets one more time.

Local restaurant owner Dana Mule believes light rail gives the city a big boost. "I think it's a great amenity for the city," he says. "It gives the city an urban vibe it never had before."

He also says it's good for business. "The introduction of the light rail finally gives us the opportunity for downtown to be the sort of entertainment mecca we all thought it should have been 25 or 30 years ago."

Now, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton wants to triple the size of the city's light rail over the next 30 years.

"Transit is incredibly important for people with disabilities, for students," says Mayor Stanton. "It's incredibly important for working families, for everyone in this city."

The Mayor wants to extend the Central Avenue line south to Baseline Road, and extend the 19th Avenue line north to Dunlap.

But in order to do that, voters would have to give the thumbs up to the plans. But many might not like the accompanying tax hike.

"Well, right now, I don't think the voters are ready to have any tax increase," says Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio.

He says the city should devote funding to other issues. "You've got to fix the infrastructure. You've got to fix the police. You've got to fix our fiscal budget," he says.

Phoenix leaders say they've formed a citizen committee to draft light-rail expansion plans, so they can bring the plans to voters next year.

"Great cities have great transit systems," says Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters, who is spearheading the committee. "And this city is absolutely no exception."

The city is also asking for the public's input on the project. Valley residents are asked to join the discussion online at

"This is really the people's plan," says Mayor Stanton. "Together we'll be making decisions on how to best invest in our city's future through an improved and well-maintained transportation system."

The mayor's office estimates it will cost about $73 million per mile of light rail that is constructed.