Sprawling Phoenix transportation plan awaits voter approval

March 13, 2015

Phoenix, Arizona’s $31-plus billion transportation plan is dependent upon voters’ appetite for a sales tax increase. As The Republic reports, the city’s sales tax would be raised from .4% to .7%, which, with the help of other funds, would support “a comprehensive transportation vision” with light-rail and bus expansion and street improvements. Detractors are questioning the amount of the tax increase, the costs associated with light rail, and whether transportation is a key priority for the growing city.

Phoenix highway

67% of a municipal sales tax hike in Phoenix would fund public transit, and 33% would fund roads. Image from Alan Stark.

At a cost of $31.7 billion, if passed this new plan would run 35 years, focusing on expanding bus service, maintaining the city’s existing light-rail service, and building new-light rail or other high-capacity transit. The proposed tax, which would be collected from 2016 to 2050, would only supply $17.3 billion of the total amount needed. Phoenix’s existing transit tax would provide $9.9 billion, while increasing the tax rate would supply another $7.4 billion.

The remaining funds would come from transit fares ($5.1 billion) and from Federal Transit Administration and regional and bond funds. The tax increase funds would be split among bus initiatives (50% of the funds), street improvements (33%) and light rail (17%). Approximately $2.9 billion would be dedicated to debt service and an operating reserve, notes The Republic, while the remaining funds would be for maintenance and improvements.

Light rail improvements and updates would include 42 new miles of light rail service plus new connections and routes; funds would also pay for maintaining the existing system for 35 years. Bus and bus rapid transit funding would mean increased bus hours and frequency, 12 new routes and seven extensions to existing bus routes. It would also fund over 600 shade structures and six new park and ride facilities. City streets would benefit too. The plan provides for 1,150 miles of bike lanes, 170 miles of new sidewalks, more than 750 miles of new asphalt for Phoenix’s arterial streets, and 2,000 new streetlights, reports The Republic. $280 million would be dedicated to larger street projects, like bridges and roads.

Public transportation is a growing necessity in Phoenix; the city’s population grew by 4.5% between April 2010 and 2013, according to U.S. Census data, and, as the fifth-largest city in the U.S. currently, it is projected to take the fourth-largest spot by 2020. Phoenix is a largely car-centric city, but as Arizona State University researchers have pointed out, its sprawl is unsustainable.

But a practice called sprawl retrofitting — which “involves the remaking of abandoned chain stores, dead malls, disconnected apartment complexes and segregated housing pods,” the Phoenix Urban Research Laboratory’s 2011 Annual Report explains — can address and improve the car-centric culture. One key part of sprawl retrofitting? Road diets — or converting “large, busy and potentially dangerous” streets into pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly areas — are a major factor in reducing sprawl and encouraging density.

While the transportation plan doesn’t specifically address such conversions, it does provide for increased pedestrian and cyclist resources. There are other hopeful initiatives in Phoenix afoot, too. For one, its bike-sharing program, Grid Bike Share, is expanding to Tempe and Mesa. The service operates about 300 bikes with plans to expand to 600 by the summer. With bike-share hubs found at most of Phoenix’s light-rail stations, the program is designed as an extension of the light-rail system.

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Category: Infrastructure, Transportation