Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton recently announced the formation of a municipal transportation advisory committee to focus on increasing the public transportation services available to working class and young people by expanding the light rail system and extending bus routes.
The light rail system opened in 2008 and has been a tremendous success. Its ridership has exceeded all expectations. Billions of dollars have been invested in development projects along the rail corridor, and it’s provided transportation for people who can’t afford a car, or don’t want to have to buy one. It’s also helped to reduce air pollution from automobiles.
The goal of the Phoenix committee is to draft a municipal transportation plan that can be sent to the city’s voters to approve a new sales tax to fund its implementation. Although Phoenix has an existing voter-approved transportation sales tax in place as a result of the passage of municipal Proposition 2000 in March, 2000, it expires in 2020 and the revenue it’s generated has fallen short of expectations by about $1 billion due to the Great Recession.
Phoenix also receives transportation funding from a sales tax approved by Maricopa County voters when they passed county Proposition 400 in 2004. But only 17% of this money can be spent on buses, and only 15% on light-rail. The majority of this money, about 57%, must be spent on freeway construction. Loop 303 on the west side of metro Phoenix, however, is almost complete. And the only other local freeway that still needs to be built is the South Mountain Freeway, which will significantly reduce congestion and air pollution on the urban portions of Interstate 10 by allowing commercial truck traffic to bypass downtown Phoenix.
I suggest that another initiative should be drafted to allow more of the Proposition 400 funds to be allocated to alternative transportation. Everybody living and working in Maricopa County would benefit from a better public transportation system, so the burden of paying for it shouldn’t fall disproportionately on Phoenix residents.
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