The City Council voted Wednesday to continue the original light-rail extension plan, despite fierce opposition from some south Phoenix residents and businesses.

Before Wednesday’s council vote, dozens of local residents, community activists and business owners had the opportunity to express their position on the issue.

Michael Kelly, who said he has lived in south Phoenix his whole life, supports the project.

“The City Council will support the will of the people and will vote for the expansion of the light rail system,” Kelly said.

Another Phoenix resident, Johnny Hernandez, said the extension will revitalize south-central Phoenix, attracting more business.

Larry Cohen and George Vasquez, who own businesses in the area, see it differently. They fear the decrease of lanes from four to two on Central Avenue and the four-year construction time frame will have nothing but negative effects on local businesses.

“The light rail is bad for local business and will only bring more crime to our area,” said Cohen, who owns a jewelry store.

Vasquez, owner of a Poncho’s Mexican Food and Cantina, disagreed with the council’s decision and said his business will never be the same.

Plans to expand light rail recently have become more contentious, as citizen groups have launched rival campaigns for and against.

For some City Council members, the extension is a good way to add transportation resources to the area.

“South Phoenix deserves light rail, and it deserves a good plan,” Mayor Thelda Williams said. “Light rail spurs economic activity and connects residents to more work and education opportunities. I hope the council reaffirms its commitment to south Phoenix.”

In 2015, Arizona residents voted for Proposition 104, which included funding for transit throughout metro Phoenix. That included the extension of the light rail into Phoenix between downtown and Baseline Road.

Hours before the vote, Sam Stone, chief of staff for Councilman Sal DiCiccio, a staunch opponent of the extension, said they didn’t expect to see any major changes happening at Wednesday’s meeting.

“Absolutely nothing. This is a dog and pony show. City Council was very clear right from the start they were going with the two-lane configuration,” Stone said.

The 5.5-mile light rail extension would assist 28 percent of people living and working in south Phoenix who depend on public transportation. Valley Metro plans to begin construction in 2019 and end in 2023.


Story by ALEXA AVILA and SUELEN RIVERA, Cronkite News