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MESA, Ariz. -- U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has unveiling $75 million in federal funding to help build a three-mile light rail extension connecting Phoenix and Tempe.

LaHood took part Friday in a grant signing ceremony in Mesa and said the light rail extension helps fast-growing cities in Arizona.

"We're going to create hundreds of jobs and we're going to provide greater mobility for people to visit this fabulous art center, to have access to the new higher-education center, senior citizens are going to have access to the new senior housing going up in this community and worshipers are going to have direct light rail access to the Mormon temple," said FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff, adding that he expects to see unexpected gains.

The new Central Mesa Extension, operated by Valley Metro Rail, will run from Sycamore to Mesa Drive on Main Street and connect residents in the downtown hubs of Phoenix, Mesa, and Tempe. Officials say it's expected to spur residential and commercial development in downtown Mesa while providing access to Arizona State University and Sky Harbor International Airport.

The extension is expected to be completed in 2015 at a total cost of $200 million, the remainder of which will come from taxpayers.

"The rest is covered with local tax monies collected as part of Proposition 400, which was approved by Maricopa County voters six or seven years ago," said Mesa Mayor Scott Smith.

In the last six months, ridership on Valley Metro light rail has risen 6.2 percent on average, compared with the same period in 2011.

KTAR's Bob McClay contributed to this report.

Associated Press,

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