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PHOENIX - As of Monday, April 8, those traveling between Metro light rail and Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport can catch a free, air-conditioned ride aboard PHX Sky Train.

The first phase of the $1.6 billion project connects with Terminal 4 and includes a stop at the East Economy parking lot. The driverless cars, leaving about every three minutes, will make the trip in about half the time of the current shuttle buses.

"The Sky Train is going to serve the airport really well to move passengers really efficiently from point to point," Steve Grubbs, a Phoenix Aviation Department special projects administrator, said during a media tour Thursday.

The trains will reduce congestion from the 108 buses that currently transport passengers around the airport, he said, while the station connecting with light rail emphasizes convenience and incorporates sustainable features and public artwork.

US Airways and Southwest Airlines will offer free early bag checking at the light-rail and East Economy stations in a pilot program. Passengers will also be able to print boarding passes at kiosks from participating airlines.

Grubbs said the PHX Sky Train was designed to create flexibility for future expansions and modifications.

Julie Rodriguez, spokeswoman for the airport, said a bridge that crosses 100 feet over a taxiway, enough to clear the tallest jetliners, will enhance the experience.

"It should be a really great ride for passengers," she said.

Officials plan to extend the train to Terminal 3, with a walkway to Terminal 2, by 2015.

The light-rail station's public art features mosaic-like designs in the flooring and a vibrant blue ceiling structure outside, paid for by a required 1 percent allocation in the budget.

Rebecca Blume Rothman, public arts project manager for the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture, said this was the first foray into public art for most of the seven artists whose work is displayed at the stations.

Their mission is to enhance infrastructure, not merely decorate it, she said.

"Something that our program strived for is to use public art as a means to create landmarks in the city fabric," Rothman said.

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