The 18 stop, four-mile surface rail line has been in the works for 10 years, according to Sun Link Project Manager Shellie Genn. As the downtown core of Tucson has continued to grow, she said the need for light rail and an effective transit system has become increasingly important to keep the city connected.
“This has allowed us to connect areas that were previously divided by physical barriers,” Genn said. Some include the I-10 freeway and Santa Cruz River, which run through Tucson’s downtown.
Largely funded through a $63 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration, Genn said Sun Link has already created more than $800 million in economic development around the line.
“There’s a real interest in developing along this line, opening up business, housing (and) grocery stores,” she said. “It’s really turning into a place where you want to be versus what it used to be like five to 10 years ago.”
The light rail line is the latest in what Genn called a national demand for more convenient public transportation as more people are migrating to downtowns and embracing urban living.
“It’s not just something that we see in Tucson, we actually see this across the United States,” Genn said. “There’s a real interest in folks returning back to their downtowns and living close to where they work, and playing close to where they live so that they don’t have to spend so much time commuting.”
FTA Chief Counsel Dorval Carter attended opening ceremonies, which included several ribbon cuttings at various stops along the line.
Carter said a second light rail line in Arizona speaks to the demand for transportation in cities around the country.
“I think what it says, is that transit matters to people, it matters to their quality of life,” he said. “It’s a vehicle that gives them access to jobs, to healthcare and to the things they need to enjoy the benefits of a community.”
The Sun Link carried its first public riders at 9 a.m. on Friday and Genn said the city expects to see roughly 3,600 riders per day.
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