For many, the light rail has been a fixture for more than a decade, connecting the Valley and becoming an affordable and reliable form of transportation for more than 15 million passengers a year.
But for those in South Phoenix, the opportunities provided by easy and economical transportation have yet to become a reality. The South Central Expansion aims to change that.
The South Central Expansion plans to connect to the existing light rail system in downtown Phoenix and operate south to Baseline Road. Since the first phases of planning in 2012, the light rail expansion into South Phoenix has been long awaited as a new resource for those who struggle finding reliable transportation.
According to Valley Metro’s website, the South Central Expansion is “more than just a train; it’s a way to bring new opportunities and connections to South Phoenix residents. It’s a catalyst for positive change.”
While the official statements on the expansion are promising, what does this expansion really mean for the residents who will be contending with construction, expected to last until 2024, awaiting the cheap transportation that has been promised for the last eight years?
Access to transportation, or lack thereof, is one of the biggest hurdles low-income individuals face in the fight for economic mobility, affecting everything from housing to education. In the Valley, which stretches more than 14,000 square miles, this holds true.
At South Mountain High School, the graduation rate sits at 80%. In the bottom 50th percentile for proficiency in both math and reading, South Mountain was in the bottom 50th percentile overall as of the 2017-2018 school year.
Lennon Audrain, a PhD candidate and graduate research assistant at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University, explained the challenges faced by low-income individuals seeking transportation, especially students.
“Areas that have… architecture and structures like Phoenix does, where we’re very gridlocked and very spaced out… it’s difficult for poor people to get around, and we know that,” Audrain said.
Students, often minors who don’t have access to a car, struggle especially when it comes to transportation; for many, opportunities and resources that other students have easy access to are out of reach.
“I think about access to resources that might have been distant for some students because of lack of transportation,” Audrain said. “Things like the art museum, the opera, the library… it [the light rail] would be a great way to increase accessibility for high school students… I can only imagine that increased access to the light rail will only increase access to the various resources that Phoenix has to offer.”