Under the Phoenix Light Rail

In Arizona the Phoenix South Central Extension is billed as “more than just a train” by Valley Metro Rail, which operates the city’s light rail transportation system. While Valley Metro sees the new hub as a lifeline for thousands of underserved commuters from South Phoenix into the downtown area, the “more than just a train” slogan also fits the massive work going into the project. It includes 5.5 miles of track, 17 light rail vehicles, nine stations, and two park-and-ride lots with 376 parking spaces.

It also includes an entire stormwater system running along – and under – the 5.5 mile light rail extension. Supplying precast concrete structures for the South Central Extension has been a major production effort for Jensen Precast manufacturing facilities in Phoenix, Tucson, and Las Vegas. Since 2020 the three facilities have been cranking out product for the stormwater portion of the $1.3 billion project, which is expected to be completed sometime in 2023. The Jensen Precast portion should wrap up in late 2021.

Project: Phoenix South Central Extension Underground Infrastructure

Owner: Valley Metro Rail, City of Phoenix, Arizona

Engineer: Aecom

Contractor: Kiewit Infrastructure West

Working with contractor Kiewit Infrastructure West, the Jensen Precast team has watched the project take on some twists and turns along the way, including some logistical challenges. Of course such challenges are nothing new to Kiewit and Jensen.

“The contractor had to constantly change things onsite,” says Brian Hartsfield, Sales Manager for Jensen Precast Phoenix. “They would run into existing utilities or unexpected conditions, and we would have to pivot and go a different direction with them.”

Jensen Precast supplied 16,000 feet of reinforced concrete pipe in sizes from 12” to 72” diameter, along with 650 feet of 8’ x 4’ box culvert, and two wet wells, 20’ and 40’ in length. Add to that more than 150 various pipe fittings. Needless to say, that is a lot of precast. More than 500 truckloads, in fact, all coordinated through the Phoenix facility.

Jensen Precast Las Vegas produced the 72” diameter pipe, while the Tucson facility contributed the pipe ranging from 12” to 54” diameter. The Phoenix group manufactured the box culvert, wet wells, junction structures, and most of the pipe fittings.

With precast concrete coming from three facilities and a fluid schedule, the logistics of getting the right products to the right place at the right time became one of the biggest challenges.

“We were working on wet wells at the same time we were working on pipe fittings and box culvert, and having multiple crews ordering different materials,” Hartsfield says. “Just keeping all of that straight was a challenge.”

Dale Godwin, General Manager of the Phoenix facility, concurs. “Each crew had its own project engineer or lead person,” he says. “So we had multiple communication points from our customer. We quickly figured out that we should have one person as our ‘go to’ in the plant, so one person would coordinate everything to make sure we weren’t doubling up on anything.”

The Las Vegas and Tucson plants produced all the pipe, which accounts for about 80% of the project. Coordinating production and deliveries from three facilities proved difficult, but the Jensen Precast team was nimble enough to meet the changing schedule.

“It’s construction, and things don’t always go as planned,” Godwin says. “Logistics and scheduling would change on the project, so we would adjust, and the other plants in turn had to adjust their production schedules as needed to have the right quantity and sizes of pipe on site when the customer needed it.”

With planning and quoting going back to 2018, and production spanning a full year, it is likely the largest project ever for the Phoenix facility.

“Over 500 truckloads,” Godwin says. “It’s been a very stabilizing project, and has had a buoying effect throughout the year.”

When the new line starts running in 2023, the city estimates 9,600 riders daily will make their way from South Phoenix to destinations downtown and beyond. Most of those riders will know little to anything about the extensive stormwater infrastructure that runs in conjunction with the line to prevent flash flood spillovers that can occur during those summer monsoon rains. But the Jensen Precast stormwater products will be there, hard at work, handling the stormwater below, so the trains can keep running above.

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