PHOENIX — On Thursday, residents can celebrate a birthday by boarding the light rail.
December 27, 2018, marks 10 years since the system hit the tracks in Arizona and Valley Metro wants to give you a gift to mark the occasion: free rides all day Thursday.
The company is also hosting a celebration called 'Railversary' on Thursday night from 5 - 10 p.m. at Talking Stick Resort Arena in downtown Phoenix. Valley Metro said there will be art exhibits, a digital scavenger hunt, entertainment, food trucks and giveaways throughout the evening.
In a "look back" video, Valley Metro recently highlighted their success from the original light rail track that was unveiled a decade ago.
"These 20 miles of light rail will move us from the east valley to the west valley," said former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon in the video. "...and those 20 miles are serving as a new economic engine - a quiet non-polluting economic engine igniting investment and development that will be felt across the valley and across the state."
Today, current Phoenix Mayor Thelda Williams believes the light rail has put the city on the fast track for growth.
"You look at downtown Phoenix today - go back 10 years, if you were down there at 6 p.m., you didn't see anybody," said Mayor Williams. "You do now."
Valley Metro said they hosted 16.5 million rides on the rail in 2017. They compared it to a prior bus route that was available to residents before they light rail. They had under 3 million riders in 2007 with that.
"We've also seen a springboard of affordable housing projects in downtown Mesa that have really been done right," said Mesa Mayor John Giles.
Valley Metro said since construction of the light rail began, more than 2,200 affordable housing units have popped up along the rail line.
Right now, there are 26 miles of track that spans across Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa. The goal is to add 40 more miles over the next decade or so.
But, while there are celebrations among proponents of the system - there are also groups of people who do not believe the rail should expand.
"The reality is that this system and this vision and this dream is under attack right now and is at risk... at serious risk," said Valley Metro CEO Scott Smith at a 'Railversary' press conference earlier this month. Smith did not shy away from, what he calls, a dark cloud that looms over the celebrations.
The south Phoenix light rail expansion has sparked protests and community concern, as this project would reduce Central Avenue to two lanes. Some people in the area believe this will hurt businesses and the people who live there.
But, the city council did approve to move forward with that plan.
Right now, the light rail sees funding from the Transportation 2050 plan, which is a voter-approved 35-year plan with the city of Phoenix that has a handful of light rail expansions included in that plan.
It is unclear if this initiative may derail those expansion hopes for proponents of the system.