Transportation

Light Rail Extension Opens Early in Mesa, Arizona

A light rail extension in Mesa, Arizona, opened seven months early, bringing rail transit to the city’s downtown.

Valley Metro Rail’s 3.1-mile Central Mesa light rail extension, which includes four new stations along Main Street, opened for service on Aug. 22 with a celebration attended by federal and local officials.

Mesa extension celebration Phoenix Metro

A Valley Metro train picks up passengers at the Center Street Station in Mesa, Arizona.

The $200 million extension provides public transit access to destinations including the downtown business district, educational institutions, Mesa Arts Center, and Mesa City Plaza. The Mesa extension connects to a larger system of light rail that serves downtown centers in nearby Tempe and Phoenix. The Mesa extension is expected to add about 5,000 daily riders to the Valley Metro light rail system.

“Today, a dream for many becomes reality,” Mesa Mayor John Giles said at the ceremony. “Light rail is rejuvenating downtown Mesa, offering residents and visitors across the Valley an opportunity to travel to new destinations and discover Mesa.”

On opening day, each of the four stations hosted events related to the city in some form, such as history or education. The public was able to ride the light rail for free on opening day.

“Light rail has generated an $8.2 billion investment along the first 20 miles into Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa, and with this extension we know that investment is only going to grow,” said Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. “More residents have greater access to jobs, education, medical appointments, shopping and entertainment.”

Challenging Time Schedule

WSP USA leads a joint venture with PGH Wong Engineering that performs program and construction management of the Central Mesa light rail extension. Responsibilities include schedule reviews, cost reviews, inspection services, and design reviews on behalf of Valley Metro Rail and the City of Mesa.

Mesa extension celebration Phoenix Metro ground

Confetti decorates the platform along the Central Mesa light rail extension – colorful evidence of an enthusiastic public celebration of its inaugural journey.

Groundbreaking for the Mesa light rail extension took place on May 30, 2012. During construction, the biggest hurdle faced by the project team was a moratorium on downtown construction that prohibited work for seven months out of the year. But foresight and careful planning kept the project on track.

“Through working with the contractor, we were able to assist in phasing the project and scheduling work in a manner that mitigated the impact to the downtown businesses throughout construction,” says John Taylor, project manager.

The construction team was also required to keep traffic flowing in both directions downtown during construction. With the limited available right-of-way, this required additional construction phasing and scheduling efforts to deliver the associated work within the contract time frame.

Ultimately, the project was completed seven months ahead of schedule. Taylor attributed much of the success to WSP’s strong teamwork with PGH Wong Engineering.

“Availability of resources, key personnel, technical knowledge and a history of managing major construction projects created a winning combination that contributed to the overall success of this project,” he says.

Public Support

Creating a light rail line integrated into the city without significant disruption of vehicle traffic was also an important consideration.

Mesa extension celebration Phoenix Metro front

The Central Mesa light rail brings rail transit to downtown Mesa.

“The guideway was constructed through downtown Mesa with only a rumble strip, which helped maintain a clean/streamlined view of the downtown district,” says Jake Wolff, resident engineer. “Through the use of screen walls and landscaping, six urban sites along the project were also designed to fit in with the environment and create an appealing façade to soften the impact to the City of Mesa.”

He adds that many of these sites were designed to be dual purpose, serving infrastructure needs for the light rail and doubling as an urban park. The visual appeal has enhanced the already strong public acceptance of the new light rail line.

“There has been overwhelming support and excitement from the public,” Wolff says. “It is a gratifying feeling to be part of a project that is integral in delivering mass transportation to the public and allowing access to a downtown district that was previously accessible only via bus or vehicle.”

The majority of the remaining work along the extension revolves around the completion of urban parks at the signal building and traction power substation sites. Other minor items include completion of the operator’s facility at the park-and-ride, landscaping, and work on various bus shelters. Final completion of the Central Mesa extension is projected for November 2015.

In addition to the Central Mesa Extension, WSP is currently performing the program and construction management on a three-mile extension in Phoenix. Next, WSP will be working with Valley Metro Rail on an additional two-mile extension in Mesa scheduled to open in 2018.

Previously, WSP served as general engineering consultant to Valley Metro for the initial 20-mile, 28-station light rail connecting Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa, which opened in December 2008. The firm’s role on the Valley Metro Rail system dates to 1998, when it supported feasibility studies, an alternatives analysis, and preliminary environmental studies to identify the best corridor for a regional transit system.