News | PSR Practitioner Speaker Series: Wulf Grote Shares the Tempe Streetcar Project

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by Jessica Brown, USC, Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering 2022

On February 4ththe Arizona Laboratory for Applied Transportation Research (AZTrans), the METRANS Consortium, the Pacific Southwest Region University Transportation Center (PSR), ITS Arizona, the Northern Arizona University Student Chapter of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), and the University of Southern California Student Chapter of ITE joined together to host a webinar for students to hear firsthand about the new and groundbreaking Tempe Streetcar Project. “We are thrilled to kick off this Spring PSR practitioner speaker series together with AZ Trans, ITS, and ITE,” said METRANS Associate Director, Education and Professional Development, Victoria Deguzman.  “Events like these serve such an important role in a student’s college experience--bridging the gap between campus and practice, and paving the way for success in the real world.” 


For this event, former Director of Valley Metro’s Capital and Service Development in Phoenix, Arizona Wulf Grote provided valuable insight on the Tempe Streetcar Project. Grote’s presentation began with a discussion on why public transportation is important as an essential service during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its role in economic development. Grote noted that $2.3 billion dollars was invested into Light Rail, and that this investment resulted in a $14.4 billion dollar return in the form of residential, commercial, and educational investments alone, not to mention the actual transportation service it provides.  Grote also highlighted the role of transportation as an attractor for economic growth with the capacity to support major sporting and other significant events. 



The Tempe Streetcar is one such Light Rail investment the City of Tempe has made to work toward its goals of accessible mobility for all and increased economic development. Located in downtown Tempe, the streetcar services the city and campus of Arizona State Universityas well as other destinations. The route, which is in the final phases of construction, utilizes both overhead electrification and battery power for vehicle propulsion. Grote spoke of many challenges including altering the initial planning process, which began in 2007, due to changes in federal route criteria with a major focus on the coordination and decision-making processes. Valley Metro spent significant time and other resources to determine how streetcars would best integrate with existing roadways. For example,  in many places along the route, parking has been prioritized and streetcars will operate in shared lanes along with vehicles. However, ongoing construction and the physical barrier of the Tempe Butte provided challenges especially on the Rio Salado Parkway. While the pandemic did decrease traffic flow allowing for accelerated construction, it also caused delays in the delivery of the six street cars in the system. The Tempe Streetcar is scheduled for operation in October of 2021.  


The webinar was attended by students, faculty, and staff from multiple universities.  “The event was interesting and so well organized,” noted University of Southern California undergraduate student in Biomedical Engineering, Sachi Pawooskar-Almeida. “I am looking forward to seeing more of these events in the future!” 


About the Author:

Jessica Brown is a junior studying Civil Engineering in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. She is a METRANS staff member and is Director of Operations for the METRANS Mentor Program.