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Many of the residents along the south central light rail corridor greatly depend on public transit, without enjoying equal access to it. According to a 2015 health impact report, 27 percent of people along the proposed new route were totally transit-dependent (car-free) — compared to 12 percent in Maricopa County.
In the study area — spanning from McDowell Road to the north and Dobbins Road to the south, 15th Avenue to the west and 16th Street to the east — people also tended to be younger, primarily Latino, and make less money on average.
The short-term goal is to connect transit to a population that needs it, according to Scott Smith, Valley Metro CEO, but he said the long-term impact is generational, changing lives and communities for the better.
“With these projects, its much more than just transporting people from point A to point B,” he said. “We literally have an impact on communities that is game-changing.”
A significant amount of private investment followed the first 26 miles of light rail, and Smith said he believes this project will yield similar results. The key is ensuring local residents and small businesses reap the benefits — not just outside developers.
It’s “a careful balance,” according to Sam Gomez, owner of the Sagrado Galleria on Central Avenue, just south of Southern Avenue. Like many in the community, he worries about the negative impacts of gentrification, and how the construction phase could shutter some local businesses.
“South Phoenix has a lot of history, a lot of diversity, let’s preserve that,” he said. “The land, the spirit of the people, it’s indigenous history — it’s a very unique place.”
Recent public expenditures in housing, infrastructure and cultural amenities aided in its urbanization, but decades of disinvestment in water lines, sewage, roads, sidewalks and other services left south Phoenix behind. Much of it remained outside city limits without political representation until annexations in 1959 and ‘60.
The light rail extension represents a major public investment. It’s expected to cost more than $900 million, funded through voter-approved transportation taxes (Prop 104 and Prop 400), with the bulk of it — $595 million — coming from federal funds.
Studies on the need and feasibility of a light rail line into south Phoenix started almost as soon as the initial 20-mile route was built. Over the past seven years, Valley Metro has conducted hundreds of meetings, presentations, interviews and input sessions.
The construction phase will undoubtedly affect residents and businesses, but according to David Krietor, CEO of Downtown Phoenix Inc., you have to balance that against all the collective benefits — namely jobs.
“Light rail will provide an opportunity for people to have access to great services and amenities, access to great K-12 schools, university education, and provide access to hundreds of thousands of jobs,” said David Krietor, CEO of Downtown Phoenix Inc. “It’s going to forever connect and provide opportunity to a part of the city that perhaps has not had the opportunities it’s deserved.”
In addition to bringing people from south Phoenix to downtown and elsewhere in the Valley, Coronado said she’s most excited about bringing new people in, and showcasing what south Phoenix has to offer.
“I’m excited for the people who have always been afraid of south Phoenix to come down,” she said. “They’re bringing a different vein into the community that I think a lot of people from outside have not been able to experience.”