Newsroom | Moving People and the Economy

MAG News

As 1,000 people cheered in welcome, the first train rolled into the new Gilbert Road/Main Street light rail station in Mesa on May 18, 2019.

Light rail extends to Gilbert Road in Mesa

Prop 400

Under Proposition 400 in 2004, Maricopa County voters approved an extension of the half-cent sales tax for transportation. This series highlights projects built under Prop 400—to let you know where your money is going and how it is improving your transportation experience.

On the Move Partners in Progress logoAs 1,000 people cheered in welcome, the first train rolled into the new Gilbert Road/Main Street light rail station in Mesa on May 18, 2019. The 1.9-mile light rail extension to Gilbert Road connects residents to jobs, schools and entertainment. It expands light rail service in the Valley to 28 miles. It also brings new economic development opportunities.

“This is going to change Mesa forever, for generations to come,” said Mesa Mayor John Giles at the opening celebration. “It’s going to attract investment. It’s going to attract education. It’s going to attract jobs,” he said.

Tracy Allen, who is the founding principal of EAGLE College Prep in Mesa, is excited about the new extension. 

“Having the opportunity to use the light rail to go downtown, to go to the Idea Museum, to take our kids on field trips—even just for transportation to get to and from school every day—is going to be so huge for our families,” she said.

The project broke ground in October 2016, employing 2,000 workers during its construction.  U.S. Representative Greg Stanton, former Phoenix mayor, said light rail has been a great investment not only for the cities it serves, but also for the entire region.

“We have seen $11 billion in great investment along this light rail line, and it is important to tell the people of this community what a success it has been,” said Congressman Stanton.

Phoenix Mayor and then Valley Metro Rail Board Chair Kate Gallego also commended the project. She called it a great economic engine that helps people get to work, medical appointments, and educational opportunities.

“Whether it be students going to school or older adults aging in place, this is going to be a great win for this community and our entire region, as light rail already has been,” Mayor Gallego said.

Along with business expansion, light rail also has triggered residential development, with 25,000 new units along the entire system. Mayor Giles noted that in the 30 years prior to light rail in the city, Mesa did not issue a single residential building permit in the downtown area. 

Gilbert Extension Ribbon Cutting

“Since the arrival of light rail in downtown Mesa, we now have over 1,200 housing units that are in different phases of either actual construction or planning along the light rail corridor. The amount of investment in downtown Mesa along the light rail corridor in that amount of time is $500 million,” he said.

The project cost $184 million, including design, construction, and purchase of three light rail vehicles, using a mix of federal and local funds. But the cost could have been higher without an innovative funding approach—one that has been praised by the Transportation Research Board for its originality. 

While the extension was not part of the original Regional Transportation Plan funded through Proposition 400, Mesa came to the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) with a unique request. The city asked to repurpose federal transportation dollars budgeted for other Mesa road projects under Prop 400.  An analysis by Mesa found that these were lower priority street projects not needed during the Prop 400 funding horizon.

The MAG process helped in another way. Because the timing for the street project funding did not originally line up with the timing needed for the light rail construction, Mesa had planned to issue bonds to finance the extension. But through the MAG closeout—a budgeting process that takes unused funding from projects that have been delayed and makes it available for other uses—MAG was able to advance $90 million to Mesa. This meant the city did not have to use debt to finance the project and overall project costs were reduced.

The project includes a station at Stapley Drive, a transit center that supports bus service, and a 445-space park-and-ride at Gilbert Road. It also includes the light rail system’s first roundabout at Horne and Main Street, designed to let traffic in the area flow more safely and smoothly. 

In addition to the capital investment, light rail brings with it new infrastructure such as freshly paved streets, new sidewalks and landscaping. The project also brings public art. Artwork is reviewed by a local committee to ensure that it preserves the culture of the surrounding neighborhoods. 

A video of the celebration created by Valley Metro is available here:


Published July 29, 2019