TEMPE,AZ — The Tempe streetcar service should already be up and running, but according to Valley Metro Spokesperson Madeline Phipps, a COVID-related supply chain issue has halted the project in its tracks, just before the finish line.
"The infrastructure for the project is basically ready," Phipps said.
Most of the construction is done and signage is in place, they're just waiting on all the streetcars to arrive.
"So we currently have three streetcars in our possession," Phipps said. "There's one that's actually traveling across the country right now and that should be to us in the next few days, and ultimately we'll have a total of six. So we'll need two more vehicles after this fourth one arrives."
Phipps says the delay is with the streetcar builder based out of Brookville, Pennsylvania. The company had to shut down for a while due to COVID over the summer and now they're behind fulfilling the order.
"We're a little disappointed. We would love to be open, and I know the public wants us to be open," she said. "Certainly we and the manufacturer are doing everything in our power to open as soon as possible. We're just looking forward to the spring when we can finally have it open and riders on board," Phipps said.
The $200 million project will run three miles throughout Tempe with 14 stops along the route. Perfect to catch many of the fun activities on ASU's campus.
"Big football games, things like that," Phipps said.
"It's a great way to travel if you're coming from different parts of Maricopa County, and they want to travel a little bit more within Tempe once you get there."
The streetcars themselves are unique hybrid vehicles, that use rechargeable battery power to ride either on or off-cable and travel with the flow of traffic.
"If you're driving in Tempe you could be driving in front or behind a streetcar," Phipps said.
If the project works out in Tempe, Phipps says plans have already started to see if streetcars would benefit nearby in Mesa.
Phipps says a feasibility study was conducted starting back in May of 2018 and just completed this summer. The results identified five potential routes to support Mesa's booming population.
"That area is actually anticipated to have 50% more population and another 34% of workers in the next several years," she said.
If they eventually get the go-ahead from the city council, Valley Metro would seek to secure federal infrastructure funds to build the Mesa expansion.
"In order to get those federal grants we also have to have local matching funds, so that's why these projects are something that the Maricopa Association of Governments have identified as potentially being a part of the regional transportation plan," she said.
They're also looking for voters to extend Proposition 400 come 2025. That would continue the current half-cent sales tax in place for local transportation projects.
"We apply for federal grants and there's a lot of factors that go into getting that money. It's also dependent on having local funding available too, so that's also a very important piece," Phipps said.
A Mesa extension would include two light rail connector hubs, one at 3rd Street and Mill Avenue, the other at Dorsey and Apache.
"So it's really easy for people if they're traveling on the light rail from Mesa, Phoenix, across Maricopa County, to then intersect and get onto Tempe streetcar once they get into Tempe."
Phipps says the Mesa extension would have to be approved by the Mesa City Council first before plans could move forward.