High-speed rail service to Phoenix on track

Published: Jul. 10, 2013 at 7:46 PM MST|Updated: Apr. 16, 2014 at 2:34 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - It's been promised before only to fizzle.

But this time is seems high-speed rail from Tucson to Phoenix is on track.

The state has whittled down the possible routes from six to three and will make a decision on the final route by the end of the year.

All of it done with public opinion.

More than 7,000 people weighed in on the options and will have a big say on which route gets chosen.

What makes it different this time is the taxpayer will likely not be on the hook for the entire $5 to $10 billion price tag.

"That's part of what excites me," says Steve Farley a Tucson State Senator from District 9."It doesn't have to be taxpayer money."

Federal funding for transportation projects is drying up and the competition is fierce.

So in this case, a public-private partnership is being encouraged.

"There are a lot of international equity firms out there looking for safe, long term investments in infrastructure in the country," Fairly said. "And this is an ideal corridor for them to invest in."

What makes it attractive is the potential for success.

A recent study released by the Arizona Department of Transportation shows by 2050, it will take 324 minutes to drive from Tucson to Phoenix. Taking a high speed train at 110 mph, will take 73 minutes.

But it's also the white-knuckle driving on the interstate, sandwiched between 18 wheelers.

"People feel a lot safer in a train rather than driving their own automobile along the interstate," says Jeremy Papuga, the transit director for the Regional Transportation Authority. "I think people will see it as a lot safer and a lot less stress."

All three alternatives on the ADOT site still in the running, go from Tucson International Airport to Phoenix Sky Harbor. Two of the proposed routes also pass through the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport in Queen Creek.

But airports don's see the train as competition.

"The key thing is the two regions are connected," says TIA planner Jordan Feld. "It gives the traveler another option."

Tucson could become a low cost hub of the Phoenix area.

"It would make it cheaper to jump a train to Tucson and fly out of TIA," says Farley.

Passengers would also avoid the hassle of a bigger airport with its parking issues, security checks and long walks from end to end.

Most believe there are many reasons why Tucson could be an attractive destination regardless of which option is chosen.

The straight line from Tucson to Phoenix appears to have more support because it will be cheaper to build.

Much of the necessary rights of way and property are already owned by the state.

Still, it may cost upwards of $5 billion to as high as $10 billion.

Even though federal highway funds are drying up and competition for the remaining dollars is fierce, it doesn't have to be paid for with taxpayer money.

"That's part of what excites me," Farley says. "There are a lot of international equity firms out there looking for safe, long term investments in infrastructure in this country."

He believes this "is an ideal corridor for them to build in."