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Valley Metro CEO explains tripled estimate for light rail expansion

(Valley Metro/Twitter)

PHOENIX — In 2015, Phoenix voters approved a measure that would allot $550 million for light rail expansion from downtown Phoenix east to the South Mountain Village Core.

But newer documents that Valley Metro Rail filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation and its Federal Transit Administration estimated costs at about $1.35 billion.

Valley Metro CEO Scott Smith explained that figure now includes metro rail expansion from downtown Phoenix west to the Arizona State Capitol.

“All of that work was expected to be done as a separate project, and now is included as a single project,” Smith said. “So, when you add all of that up, it’s a billion-dollar project.”

Smith said the rest of the estimated cost is 40% contingency as required by the FTA.

“A lot of that is money we don’t ever expect to spend, but it is required by the federal government for cost-estimating purposes,” Smith added.

The FTA is kicking in $100 million. Smith added that construction costs have risen since 2015.

None of these reasons sit well with Scott Mussi, president of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club.

“It is one of the most expensive rail projects in the country, and construction hasn’t even started yet,” he told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News on Monday.

Phoenix’s mayor and city council must still approve all of the plans and costs, which they could do within the year.

On Monday, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation confirmed that the Federal Transit Administration had already pledged an additional $550 million, if expansion is eventually approved.

But on Aug. 27, Phoenicians will vote on Proposition 105, which could stop the South Mountain expansion.

“I hope they understand that the project they would be getting is a different, more inclusive, larger project that will improve the system,” Smith said. “And they’ll just have to decide if that’s an investment that they want to make.”

Smith insists Valley Metro is always looking for more ways to cut costs.

“There already has been one round of what we call ‘value engineering,’ where we cut certain amenities out of the project and redefine others,” he said.

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