Embattled Phoenix transit scheme to get final $530m tranche of federal funding

A light rail extension project in Phoenix, Arizona that survived a bid to cancel it by anti-rail campaigners in 2019 looked secure last week when the US Federal Transit Administration (FTA) said it would give the scheme its final grant of just under $530m.

The "South Central Extension/Downtown Hub" project extends the fast-growing city’s light rail system 5.5 miles down Central Avenue, with eight stations, to bring transit to poorer neighbourhoods.

The funding pledged by the FTA on Friday, 4 December constitutes nearly 40% of the total project cost and follows two prior allocations. Signing of the Full Funding Grant Agreement is anticipated in January 2021.

"It is thrilling to see this grant agreement, which comes at a time when investment could not be more important," said Phoenix Mayor and Valley Metro Rail Board Vice Chair Kate Gallego. "We have been working towards this day for years and it is a personal passion for me because of the economic development, business, education and community connections that light rail can deliver."  

Last year saw the culmination of a battle between the city and an anti-rail group with links to fossil fuel magnates Charles and David Koch, which launched a petition and tabled a proposition that would cancel the scheme and ban any further railway investments in America’s fifth largest city.

Citizens voted on the so-called "Proposition 105" on 27 August last year, and a majority of around 63% of ballots were cast against it, paving the way for the city government to proceed.

The city said the project represents an investment in the entire corridor, with upgraded utilities, sidewalks, landscaping, local art and measures for greater mobility.

"We are grateful for the federal government’s continued support of public transportation in Maricopa County," said Valley Metro CEO Scott Smith. "We are proud of our relationship with the US Department of Transportation and FTA and look forward to delivering a project that will honor the life and work of the Honorable Ed Pastor."

Arizona’s two Democratic senators Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly also praised the grant.

"Today’s funding announcement of the South Central Light Rail Extension will create jobs, expand transportation options and grow Arizona’s economy," said Sinema.

"This is a significant investment in South Phoenix and the entire Valley," said Senator Kelly, who won the Senate seat in the November elections. "By connecting South Phoenix with the rest of the Valley Metro light rail, this project will give folks a reliable transportation option and increase economic opportunity."

Image: The South Central Extension extends the city’s light rail system 5.5 miles down Central Avenue, with eight stations (Courtesy of the City of Phoenix newsroom)

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