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The Works

New Starts: Phoenix Light Rail Triple Play, Perth Airport Subway and an “eHighway” in L.A.

Phoenix’s mayor launches campaign to triple size of city’s light rail network, Western Australia government approves construction of underground rail link to Perth Airport, and a “trolleytruck” demonstration project seeks to cut air pollution at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

An eHighway test will run between two L.A. ports. (Photo: Siemens)

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Our weekly roundup of new and newsworthy transportation projects from around the world.

Phoenix Mayor Wants to Triple City’s Light Rail Mileage
Ridership on Phoenix’s 20-mile-long light rail line has already surpassed its projected 2020 level and is running double what its planners had projected for its fifth year of service. New route extensions to the east, into the heart of Mesa, and the north, further into northwest Phoenix, are already under way, and the light rail line’s proponents say the line has stimulated $7 billion in economic development.

Now one of its biggest supporters, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, is ready to double down on the city’s $1.4 billion investment to date in light rail. Make that triple down.

The Arizona Republic reports that over the next 30 years, Stanton would like to expand Phoenix’s light rail system to three times its present size. Stanton announced last week that the city is forming a citizens committee charged with recommending new light rail routes and bus service improvements to present to Phoenix voters next fall. The committee, which will be composed of local civic and business leaders and chaired by former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters, will also take public input at the website.

In order to fund this ambitious wish list, Phoenix voters will have to approve the extension of a four-tenths-percent sales tax past its 2020 expiration date. Proceeds from this tax and a companion levy in Maricopa County fund transit construction projects in the Phoenix metropolitan area. If the tax is not extended, the city will have funds to build only four to five miles of new light rail over the next six years, as revenue from the tax is running about $1 billion short of projections through 2020 due to the Great Recession. The list of recommendations is intended to build public support for extending the sales tax.

“The economy is improving,” Stanton told The Republic. “This city is growing again. There is going to be more and more congestion. Unless we work hard to get ahead of the curve, things are going to slow down in this city.” Advocates note that roughly half the households along the route do not have cars.

Perth Airport to Get Subway Rail Link
A plan to swap one subway tunnel for another in Melbourne is causing controversy in Australia’s second-largest city, but on the country’s west coast, a plan to swap a surface rail line for a subway will apparently hasten the day when Perth opens a rail link from its airport to the city center.

The International Railway Journal notes that the state government of Western Australia has decided to proceed with an 8.5-km, three-station extension of the city’s regional rail network that will serve Perth Airport from a connection with the existing system at Midland station in the eastern suburb of Forrestfield. Instead of building the line on the surface as originally planned, the extension will run mainly underground, in two 8-km tunnels that will pass under the Swan River.

Uncertainty over funding and cost of the project had caused the state government to hold off on committing to it, but with definite construction bids now in hand, the government has confirmed it will proceed with the A$2.2 billion ($2.04 billion U.S.) project, which Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett called “a real game-changer in terms of public transport in this city.”

The new rail line will whisk riders from the airport to the city center in 20 minutes and is projected to add 20,000 riders per day to the Transperth regional rail system by 2021. Work on the line will begin in 2016, with completion projected for 2020.

Trolleytrucks Coming to Los Angeles-Long Beach Ports
One knock made against electric-powered urban rail transit by its critics is that no one ships freight by trolley. (Well, at least no one has since the demise of the interurbans around World War II.)

That’s going to change next year at the nation’s two busiest seaports.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District, in an effort to cut down on air pollution generated by trucks shuttling cargo between the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, will begin construction in 2015 on a one-mile “eHighway” — a two-way overhead catenary that will power electric and hybrid trucks.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Daily News, the eHighway, which will run along Alameda Street between the two ports, is a one-year demonstration project intended to cut down on greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions from diesel trucks in the area, which are major contributors to the still-poor air quality of the Los Angeles Basin.

Siemens will build the catenary along with the current-collecting pantographs, which will be designed to allow the trucks using the eHighway to connect to and disengage from the catenary at speed. Once off-wire, the test trucks will use diesel fuel, compressed natural gas or battery power to reach their final destinations. Up to four trucks will be fitted with pantographs for the demonstration project.

“We still have the worst air quality in the nation, and the ports, in spite of all their innovative work in emission reductions, are still the largest source of air pollution in the region,” SCAQMD spokesman Scott Atwood told the Daily News. “So we are going to need this kind of zero-emission goods movement system to achieve the air-quality goals that are mandated by the federal government.”

The demonstration project will cost $13.5 million to build.

Know of a transportation project you think should be featured here? Send a Tweet to @MarketStEl with the hashtag #newstarts.

The Works is made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

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Next City contributor Sandy Smith is the home and real estate editor at Philadelphia magazine. Over the years, his work has appeared in Hidden City Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Inquirer and other local and regional publications. His interest in cities stretches back to his youth in Kansas City, and his career in journalism and media relations extends back that far as well.

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Tags: los angeleslight railsubwayshighwaysairportsphoenix

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