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With light rail ridership down 50 percent since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Phoenix's Valley Metro is taking advantage of reduced traffic congestion to continue, and in some cases, accelerate the construction of a new downtown transfer hub and light rail extensions.
"Valley Metro spokesperson Hillary Foose said both the light rail and bus system serve an 'essential group of riders' — people like health care workers, grocery store clerks and janitorial workers, who continued to go into work while others stayed home," reports Jessica Boehm.
According to Foose, Phoenix has fared better than other U.S. cities—light rail service has been reduced from every 12 minutes to every 15 minutes and only some bus lines have reduced service capacity.
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego predicts that ridership will ramp up once schools resume in-person classes and workers return to traditional office spaces. Boehm reports that about a third of transit riders are student commuters.
The projects under construction include a new downtown light rail hub that will "allow riders to transfer between the existing light rail line and the line that eventually will head down Central Avenue into south Phoenix," writes Boehm.
A South Central light rail extension will reduce vehicle lanes from four lanes to two lanes between Central Avenue to Baseline Road. Additionally, the Metrocenter rail line will be extended a mile and a half to the Metrocenter Mall that closed in June. "Gallego said she's confident Metrocenter will be bought by a developer who will invest in the property and bring it into the 21st century," Boehm notes.
All three projects are on track to open to passengers in 2024.