Light Rail Reality Hits Phoenix

The web site revals the unfolding reality of the Phoenix Light Rail line being constructed and projected to open late 2008. This opening date is not the only common characteristic with Austin’s Commuter rail. Phoenix has experienced huge cost increases compared to initial estimates, Phoenix’s Metro has substantially mislead the voters, construction of the 20 mile line will cost more than $1.5 billion or more than double the initial estimates and the small projected ridership will have no measurable impact on congestion. As mentioned previously, construction and operations of the Austin Commuter will cost more than four times Capital Metro’s promise to the voters. Cap Metro promised $120 million and is now estimating more than $500 million through 2030.

Below is an article from the web site and letters to the editor which may well be harbingers of the experience in Austin. Following the letters is a short article regarding the shameful and wasteful spending of local governments on transportation studies which reveal the obvious.

Phoenix construction feedback
Stop Your Railing Sure, light-rail construction is painful, but it will be worth it in the long haul

by Ray Stern in the Phoenix News Times

We’ve been bombarded with barricades and signs, shifting lanes, road closures, and epic traffic snarls. Daytime movement around the Valley’s urban cores has become a vein-popping experience that takes twice as long as usual and requires extra planning to avoid being late to work or for appointments.

But while the construction problems have just been aggravation for most of us, they have been extremely costly for businesses along the light-rail line, especially those that rely on walk-in customers. [Full story]

The following letters were among several published in response to this story:

An opportunity missed: Ray Stern’s cover story about the effects of light-rail construction on Valley businesses was 5,467 words of a missed opportunity or lack of courage to tell the real story: the documented increase in air pollution, congestion, and crime that light-rail transit or modern streetcar will bring to the Valley.

That there is pain during the building process is a given. The fallacy is that, after the labor pains, we will be presented with a beautiful baby that will make all the temporary hardships worth the suffering. Wrong.

Light rail is Rosemary’s baby, and this monster will suck us dry while fouling itself with air pollution and congestion it promises to cure.

No amount of “the cool factor” that light-rail backers attribute to the Japanese Kinkisharyo train cars can make up for the fact that this is all about taxpayer-funded transit-oriented development for the overhyped creative classes. It has nothing to do with moving a pitiful small percentage of folks from point A to point B.

Scottsdale Mayor Mary Manross publicly admitted as much.

It is false advertising to show sleek mockups of a light-rail car without the ugly overhead tangle of wires that must be present in order to move the car. But, hey, everybody’s doing it, so why not? – Becky Fenger, Phoenix

The bus stops here: I think you are mistaken on several subjects concerning light rail. The 26,000 is ridership, not people. Since those who go to town will probably return, there are only 13,000 people estimated to ride the trolley.

Also, most of these are people who are riding the bus and will have to transfer because the bus will no longer serve Central Avenue, except for one line instead of the approximately eight that now serve Central. The bus stops are much closer together at a couple of blocks than will be the trolley at every half a mile on Central.

I think your article would have been better if divided into two parts—one titled “Reality” and one titled “Daydreams.” The businesses that [go] are reality. The ones that are to come are daydreams. The ones that are moving are between.

We have two years yet to go on construction, according to the new timetable. The timetable that the voters voted on was for service to start in 2004, which of course has come and gone. The cost that was voted on has nothing to do with the final real cost. The cost of operation has not been adequately explained to the citizens as to how much is coming from the Transit 2000 sales tax and how much from general funds.

You forgot to mention that we had a trolley system that we tore out because it cost too much to operate. It was in the middle of the street, and politicians of the day considered it a safety hazard. – Bob McKnight, Phoenix

The cure for infectious municipal brain disease
Authoritative Transportation Study for $2

by Craig Cantoni

My hometown of Scottsdale, Arizona, is spending tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on a transportation study. Translation: Like municipalities across the land, it’s going to try to get citizens out of their cars so that they can be dependent on public transit driven by city workers and supervised by city managers.

The other day, I received the current issue of the nonpartisan Reason Magazine, which costs me about $24 for an annual subscription of 12 monthly issues, or $2 apiece. There, in addition to a chilling cover story about the authoritarian nature of Sen. John McCain, was a story titled, “How Traffic Jams Are made in City Hall: The bad logic and failed policies of transportation planners.”

The article has similar findings and conclusions to numerous authoritative studies that can be accessed on the Internet for nothing. The article shows how centralized, unelected transportation commissions and agencies are wasting money on mass transit to the detriment of where the real need and demand are: streets and highways. Staggering statistics are included on the slowness of mass transit, the projections of increased auto traffic versus transit usage, and the plans of local governments to force drivers to waste valuable time and fuel in traffic by not making the necessary investments in expanded highway capacity. Minneapolis and Atlanta are highlighted in this regard.

By the way, guess where the commutes are the longest in the nation? Answer: Where there is the most mass transit: in metro New York.

I’d be happy to give each Scottsdale City Council member a copy of the Reason article at no charge. But only on the condition that they stop wasting money on transportation studies in which the hidden agenda is public transit.

An author and columnist, Mr. Cantoni can be reached at

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