Downtown Tempe’s new streetcar project adds to construction in the area

The much anticipated Tempe streetcar is entering the next phase of construction as workers begin digging up the street along Mill Avenue to lay down track for the new project. The new people mover project picks up on McClintock and Apache and curves around Gammage Auditorium with its sights set on the hustle and bustle of college crowd-friendly Downtown Tempe where it will shuttle legions of tourists, day-trippers, college students, and young professionals.

But with all this construction going on in the Downtown Tempe area, and one side of the road shut down through August, is it doing more harm than good on the businesses in the surrounding area? From burgers to beers, banks to bagels, and coffee to cocktails, Mill Avenue practically survives on the patronage of people who can access the street.

“While a few businesses have expressed frustration with the inconvenience of construction and street restrictions, the sentiment from the majority of businesses has been along the lines of: we know construction is going to be difficult, but we’d rather get it over with during the summer when traffic and business are seasonally lower and ASU is not in regular session,” Amanda Nelson with the City of Tempe Transportation Department said. “Tempe Streetcar will provide another option for people to get around downtown Tempe and the urban core area, the area of the city that has the highest density and is growing rapidly, giving people more alternatives so they don’t have to drive vehicles to get where they need and want to go.”

According to Nelson, the new streetcar will “complement Tempe’s multi-modal transportation system that focuses on moving people and includes more than a dozen bus routes, six free neighborhood circulator routes, Valley Metro rail service and more than 200 miles of bikeways. It will help bring people to the more than 100 shops and restaurants as well as hundreds of special events in the downtown area.”

The core of the work is taking place on Mill Avenue between University Drive and Rio Salado Drive, leaping over brick walks and light rail tracks and burning dirt pathways that lead to “A” Mountain.

One of the reasons the streetcar project is underway right now is because traditionally Mill Avenue is slower in the summer. With high temperatures and an exodus of college students taking off back home, the popular nightlife neighborhood usually sees dips in patronage throughout the summer break.

“As a general trend, automobile ownership is decreasing – especially in urban areas – and people are looking for alternatives to driving. Streetcar will complement Tempe’s comprehensive, multi-modal transportation system that focuses on providing mobility for people,” Nelson said.

Businesses are closely monitoring the effects that construction is having on their bottom-line through the summer. The upside is that construction will finish before the college students return and in due time the streetcar will allow for even more foot traffic.

Photo courtesy of Valley Metro

Nick Esquer

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