Guest Opinion: A Streetcar Named Uncertain
The Tempe streetcar project that has been in the works for years is finally underway after receiving a $50 million federal grant, which is supposed to be a good thing. It was slated to get $75 million. The Trump Administration gave it a haircut.
The project will result in a three-mile streetcar loop that weaves through downtown Tempe, ASU, and Mill Avenue to connect riders to nearby neighborhoods, shops, and businesses in the area. There will be 14 stops, and two of these will connect to light-rail stops so that people can switch from one circuit to the other with ease. The project is expected to be completed in Fall 2020.
Considering that the project is now estimated to cost a whopping $186 million, the extra $25 million that Trump cut will be missed. Valley Metro officials are still holding out hope of getting the extra $25 million.
On top of potential budget issues, lingering doubts persist as to whether or not the project will really be all that beneficial in the long run, and yet construction is about to begin anyway. Assuming that the project finishes on schedule, businesses will still be severely affected by three years of construction in downtown that will lead to decreased accessibility and blockage. If the project drags on past its expected completion, there could be serious long-term implications for these stores and companies situated in the areas under construction.
Many Tempe residents have complained that the streetcar system will not extend to south Tempe, where people would actually use it. In truth, the streetcar system borders on unnecessary when considering its price tag - it is not that difficult to navigate around Mill Avenue or walk a few blocks between destinations in downtown Tempe.
Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell remains optimistic and has said that should this project be successful, it will be extended to other areas that are not included in the light-rail circuit, perhaps even as far away as Mesa.
It could take years before we know if the streetcar project will be successful, but for now it seems fair to say that Tempe is taking a big risk.