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Phoenix Business Owners Fight Light Rail Extension

Light rail line along Camelback Road.
Christina Estes/KJZZ
file | staff
Light rail line along Camelback Road.

A group of business owners in south Phoenix vows to keep fighting the city over light rail plans they say will ruin their livelihoods.

The group has gathered signatures and posted signs along south Central Avenue that read “4 Lanes or No Train.” They want to keep four lanes open to cars, but the design calls for two lanes.

It’s a move Siho Lee said would devastate his family’s shopping center, Central Mart, which houses ten individual stores.

“Small businesses like us, we absolutely rely on drive by vehicle traffic for exposure to draw customers in,” he said during last week’s city council meeting. “We might have more pedestrian exposure with the light rail, but I don’t think it will be nearly enough to offset the loss from a two-lane reduction.”

During the meeting, many business owners said they only recently learned about the reduction in lanes. But, resident Vicky Anderson said she has been hearing about the light rail extension since 2012.

“The people in opposition had the exact amount of time I had to support it to oppose it and I am angry as a taxpayer that we are still debating this,” she said.

The city council approved the two-lane design in 2014 and city staff and Valley Metro said they began community outreach in 2012.

When asked how starting the design process over would impact the project, Valley Metro CEO Scott Smith replied, “I don’t want to be fatalistic, because I don’t have a crystal ball, but I would say that it would put us in a very, very negative position that I, if I were betting I would bet against our ability to finalize the project with the federal government.”

About 49 percent of the project funding will comes from the federal government. After hearing from staff, Valley Metro, residents and business owners, the council rejected a citizen petition to start the design process over.

The council approved more money for business assistance — things like marketing and microloans — while some business owners pledged to pursue legal action. The six-mile extension from downtown to Baseline Road is expected to open in 2023.

As a senior field correspondent, Christina Estes focuses on stories that impact our economy, your wallet and public policy.