Light Rail Rises in the Southwest

<p>Governing Magazine takes a look at the light rail explosion in the Southwest, particularly in Phoenix, where weather is a major factor in ridership.</p>
July 30, 2008, 12pm PDT | Tim Halbur
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"Hey! What do you know? It's cold!"

Rick Simonetta isn't talking about the temperature in downtown Phoenix, which today is 92 degrees in the shade. What's cold is the water he's sipping from a fountain on the platform of an outdoor train station. Right now, the platform is eerily devoid of passengers, its modern, sage-colored ironwork glinting in the Southwestern sun. But come December, when Phoenix opens its first light-rail line, this station will anchor a huge regional transit system that will stretch north to Glendale and east to Mesa and Tempe. It's a $1.4 billion, 20-mile catapult into transit - no other light-rail system in the country has been so large right from its inception.

As Simonetta, the system's CEO, inspects the gleaming new stations, he's focused on the details. Phoenix, he notes excitedly, will boast - make that boasts already - the first light-rail stations anywhere with chilled water fountains. Simonetta figures that will be a necessity if he's going to persuade drivers to get out of their air-conditioned cars and stand in the heat waiting for trains. To that end, other touches at the stations include sweeping sail-shaped sun shades, tilted in a way that keeps at least 40 percent of the platform shaded at all times, and sand-colored concrete that deflects heat rather than absorbs it. Simonetta can easily envision this station teeming with commuters headed to work, college students on their way to class and other residents coming downtown to shop, catch a concert or watch basketball's Suns or baseball's Diamondbacks play."

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Published on Tuesday, July 29, 2008 in Governing Magazine
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