More than 3500 people rode the 5km extension of Valley Metro Rail's line from Sycamore Main Street to Mesa Drive station for free on August 22, with celebrations held at each of the line's four new stations.

The $US 199m project was delivered seven months ahead of schedule with construction starting in summer 2012. Funding came from a $US 75m grant from the Federal Transport Administration (FTA), $US 71m from a county transport tax, and $US 53m in federal air quality funds.

In addition to the new stations which incorporate art reflecting Mesa's culture and history, a new 500 space park and ride facility was built. A further 3km extension of the line is planned after the FTA approved the $US 144m project to Gilbert Road in 2013.

"Light rail has generated an $US 8.2bn investment along the first 32.2km line into Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa, and with this extension we know that investment is going to grow," says Phoenix mayor Mr Greg Stanton. "With Mesa's new extension and the opening of the Northwest extension next March, more residents have greater access to jobs, education, medical appointments, shopping and entertainment."

In Sacramento, the start of operations on the 6.9km extension of the Blue Line from Meadowview to Cosumnes River College was marked with a pre-opening community celebration on August 23 and an official grand opening on August 24 after the first trains began using the route at 05.00.

The $US 270m extension was delivered ahead of schedule and adds three new stations to the Blue Line as well as new park and ride facilities for 2500 vehicles. A fourth station is planned at Morrison Creek to serve a new property development. The FTA provided $US 135m of the funding for the project via its New Starts programme, while the US Department of Transportation provided $US 7.1m, and the remainder coming from a combination of local and state transport funds.

The line is intended to relieve congestion on Highway 99 and Interstate 5 and provide an alternative means of transport to residents of Elk Grove and South Sacramento.