Expanded Gilbert Road Light Rail System Connects Mesa with Phoenix
An Economic Engine: The Gilbert Road Light Rail Extension Creates Efficient Connection Between Phoenix and Mesa
The new $184 million Gilbert Road Light Rail Extension in Mesa, Arizona, reduced vehicular traffic lanes while creating a fast and efficient connection between Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa.
Construction of this extension “was City of Mesa driven,” says Brian Mason, Construction Manager, for the Gilbert Road Extension project from Valley Metro. “The city accelerated that section after the success of the extension into downtown Mesa.”
The extension to downtown Mesa opened in 2015. The current project used $173.5 million in federal funds and the rest was local funding.
Currently, 45,000 riders use the system daily. The city hopes the 1.9-mile extension will attract jobs and new developments to the area between Mesa Drive and Gilbert Road on Main Street. Already 18 projects, including 1,200 residential units, have been announced near the light rail in Mesa, for an investment of $500 million, according to Mesa Mayor John Giles, at the grand opening celebration in May.
Also at the grand opening, Kate Gallego, Valley Metro Rail Board Member and Mayor of Phoenix, agreed, calling the new extension, “a great economic engine for this area.”
“This was done to extend ridership to the East Valley and connect it with downtown Phoenix,” says Chris Elison, Project Manager for Tempe-based Sundt Construction, which with joint venture partner Stacy and Witbeck of Alameda, California, built the rail line extension.
The construction team built the new line in the middle of Main Street, reducing vehicular traffic lanes from five plus two lanes of on-street parking to two, one in each direction with sporadic on-street parking. The team repaved the roadway. That narrower road helps to bring the feel of downtown Mesa farther to the east, Elison explains. Mason reports traffic is flowing with no difficulties.
The project also included construction of two stations in a concrete median between the east and westbound tracks, and a park-and-ride lot and transit center, with bus service, at the eastern terminus of the rail line. The area was landscaped and received new sidewalks and public art.
One of the more interesting parts of the project was the creation of a four-legged roundabout, anticipated to help traffic flow more smoothly and safely. It is the country’s first roundabout with a train passing through it. Traffic signals were removed and gates were added. “It is functioning well,” Mason reports.
Jacobs Engineering Group of Pasadena, California, began design in 2014. Sundt and Stacy and Witbeck provided preconstruction services. Construction costs were $116 million. Design and management cost $25.56 million, right of way $14.78 million, and the trains cost $16.85 million.
An Accelerated Schedule
Stacy and Witbeck Sundt, as construction manager at risk, broke ground on the new line in October 2016.
“It was a really aggressive schedule,” Elison says. “Our craft, admin and subcontractors worked a lot of weekends and some holidays to keep on schedule. It was a fast pace.”
Work began with utility relocations. Power lines were converted from overhead to underground. Crews worked with traffic passing on each side of the project. The team converted overhead power to an underground duct bank and improved drainage facilities.
The team installed nearly 910,000 pounds of rebar and 9,000 cubic yards of concrete in the track slab and placed 650 tons of rail. Welders welded 80-foot-long rail “sticks” together into 400-foot strings. Crews used a Pettibone rail crane when building the track.
“We were working around traffic the entire time,” Elison says.
Mason considers accommodating traffic the greatest challenge on the project.
“When you narrow the lanes to one and one, where do you put the cars when they are doing the work?” Mason says.
During paving of the two lanes, crews divided the work into small sections, to minimize disruptions to businesses.
The 300-foot-long stations are steel, with shade structures. Each station has eight vertical steel columns in three groupings. Stacy and Witbeck Sundtperformed the steel erection at night. The team received some overnight road closures. A small crane lifted the steel into place.
The train passes through the four-lane roundabout. Gates close when a train approaches. East and westbound traffic can pass while the train goes through. Crews came in, milled the old road, put in the concrete and infrastructure, paved it and added gating.
“It is working as intended,” Elison says. “We got a 17-day closure of the intersection and worked around the clock to build it.”
During construction, Stacy and Witbeck Sundt hired a consultant to measure noise and vibration. Elison reports there were no issues. A Valley Metro community advisory board rated the construction team highly.
“Valley Metro and the joint venture put a major emphasis on working with the local community and ensuring we were attentive and understanding of the needs of everyone while building a complex project in front of their businesses and homes,” Elison says.
System testing began in February of this year, and the rail line opened to passengers in May. Testing consisted of the train traveling along the route with operational staff walking next to it. They observed vehicle clearance at the stations, traffic signal coordination and track switching.
“This was a highly successful project,” Mason says. “It was finished on time and on budget with an accelerated schedule. The contractor did an excellent job managing it.”
About the Players
Valley Metro operates 28 miles of light rail service, connecting Mesa, Tempe, and Phoenix. The system opened in 2008.
Stacy and Witbeck Sundt has worked on the Valley Metro rail line before. The team has built a maintenance and operations facility, more than half of the initial 20-mile light-rail track, line sections 4 and 5, plus the Northwest Phoenix Extension, all winners of national industry awards. Elison also served as Project Manager of the Northwest Phoenix extension. The joint venture team also built the 50th Street/Washington station that was completed in April 2019. It is the first station built within an operating rail line.
Erik Yingling, Vice President of Stacy and Witbeck, reported at the grand opening, that the joint venture team has been working with Valley Metro on its light-rail system for 15 years.
Sundt, established 129 years ago, specializes in building, transportation, industrial and concrete work and is owned entirely by its more than 2,000 employees. The company operates in Arizona, California, Texas, and Utah.
Stacy and Witbeck enjoys an extensive track record in successfully building light-rail systems in dense urban environments. The company began in 1981 doing heavy civil construction in San Francisco. Stacy and Witbeck works throughout the western region of the country and has offices in Alameda; Portland, Oregon; and Salt Lake City, Utah.