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Automated rail line will service Sky Harbor Airport

PHOENIX – Starting in 2013, visitors to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport won’t have to carry bags onto buses to get from light rail trains and the airport’s busiest parking lot to its busiest terminal.

With Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on hand to help shovel, Mayor Phil Gordon and other officials broke ground Thursday on PHX Sky Train, an automated rail line whose first phase will connect METRO light rail and the airport’s East Economy parking lot with Terminal 4.

The plan calls for opening the line in 2020 to the other two terminals and on to car rental facility west of the airport, 4.8 miles in all.

“This is the future. Light rail is the future,” LaHood said. “This is an opportunity to get people out of their cars and into alternative forms of transportation that are comfortable, efficient and on time.”

The PHX Sky Train, which won’t have drivers, will run on rubber tires along a track elevated over areas of the airport with the most traffic congestion. It will connect to the METRO rail line via escalator and an air-conditioned walkway.

The cost of the entire system is projected at $1.1 billion. Gordon said he hopes that the federal government will approve $200 million of stimulus funding that would make it possible to complete the entire system by 2013.

The mayor said the project’s first phase will create an estimated 5,900 jobs, and the stimulus funding would bump up that number significantly.

“For the administration to combine solving the economic crisis that we’re in with the creation of great new jobs, and then at the same time creating assets for the future, you would think that we would have been doing this for the last decade,” Gordon said.

LaHood also presented Gordon with a $10.5 million check made possible by the federal stimulus package that will fund the completion of a taxiway reconstruction project on the airport’s northwest side. The secretary said it’s important to invest in the airport.

“Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is an important gateway to our nation, but more importantly, to this area it is an economic engine for the state and the region,” LaHood said.

He said another $28 million in grants from the stimulus will go toward projects at other Arizona airports, including Tucson International Airport, Sierra Vista Municipal Airport and Kingman Airport and Industrial Park.

“Through the recovery act we are creating jobs here in Arizona and across the country while investing in long-term safety and economic viability of our airports,” LaHood said.

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