Arizona

Mar 24, 2014 8:23 PM

Tucson-Phoenix high speed rail plan up for public input

PHOENIX - A jeweler based in Tucson, Erik Stewart makes regular drives two hours up Interstate 10 to do business in Phoenix. If a high-speed rail line connected the cities, he said he'd use it.

"There wouldn't be any reason for us to drive to Phoenix and back anymore," Stewart said. "I think it would be phenomenal."

Through May 31, Arizonans have the chance to provide feedback at public events and online about three proposed routes for high-speed rail between Phoenix and Tucson. Each plan includes the same options for connecting with the West Valley and traveling through the Grand Avenue corridor to northwest and would follow I-10 northwest out of Tucson through Eloy.

The Arizona Department of Transportation has already received more than 7,000 comments, said Laura Douglas, an agency spokeswoman. An environmental study will follow this summer, she said.

"Overall the comments are very positive," Douglas said. "People are looking for an alternate mode of transportation between Phoenix and Tucson, something that can get them to metro areas quicker."

The Phoenix-Tucson options would: follow I-10 into the Valley and then follow railroad right of way downtown; head north from I-10 at Eloy and pass through the East Valley along the Union Pacific right of way; and follow a planned freeway connecting I-10 at Eloy with the East Valley and traveling along a stretch of U.S. 60.

None of the plans would come cheap, ranging from $3.6 billion to $7.9 billion, and ADOT has yet to secure funding for the project.

Douglas said there are several potential sources of funding, including the state and federal governments or public-private partnerships.

According to ADOT, Arizona's population is expected to double by 2050, with a majority of that growth along the Sun Corridor stretching through Phoenix and Tucson. A rail system would help prevent congestion on roads, Douglas said.

An express train traveling up to 150 mph would get commuters between Phoenix and Tucson in an average of 90 minutes, depending on which line is selected. A second option on the same line would stop in more cities.

Serena Unrein, public interest advocate for the Arizona Public Interest Research Group, said high-speed rail would be a necessity rather than a luxury for the state.

"If we don't have a serious conversation about our infrastructure needs and what our population growth will require, we're going to get left behind," she said.

Speaking by phone from Tucson, Stewart said high-speed rail would be a solid investment in the long run.

"A passenger rail is where it's at, and it's where it should be," he said. "It's just going to take a lot of preparation and planning but I hope I see it in my lifetime."

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