Plan to expand and revamp public transport fails to clear city council subcommittee

(Courtney Pedroza/DD)
A proposal to upgrade Phoenix’s public transportation systems and infrastructure such as bridges and roads, including a sales tax increase, failed to pass a city council subcommittee review. (Courtney Pedroza/DD)

A plan to expand public transit and revamp transportation infrastructure in Phoenix failed to advance at a city council subcommittee meeting Tuesday and faced scrutiny from some community members.

The proposal by the Citizens Committee on the Future of Phoenix Transportation that was presented at the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee included replacing the current transit tax with a potential sales tax of 0.75 percent, which would last for at least 30 years, said Mary E. Peters, member of the committee.

“The citizens committee recommends replacement of the city’s current transit tax with a transportation tax,” Peters said.

The tax in place for public transit, Transit 2000, which allocates four-tenths of a cent of sales tax to public transit services, was voted on and approved in 2000, according to a report in the meeting’s agenda.

Transit 2000 has fallen short of its revenue target by $1 billion due to the economic recessions that have occurred. With the tax’s expiration approaching in 2020, Mayor Greg Stanton and Phoenix City Council appointed the committee to engage with the public and assess transportation needs statewide.

“What we’re proposing is 125 new miles of light rail, streetcar or bus rapid transit throughout the city,” Peters said. Other changes include doubling funding for pavement and overlays and $280 million for major transportation projects, bridges, new roads and a bicycle master plan.

The part of the plan concerning upgrades to streets is currently projected to have a $3.5 billion deficit over the 30-year period, said Martin L. Shultz, a member of the committee and senior policy director.

Shultz said the recommendation would triple light rail miles and yield an investment return of $40 billion with the light rail, increase bus service by 70 percent and increase the span of bus services by 20 percent.

Community members voiced concerns about aspects of the plan, specifically the funding sources.

“There’s several things that I see wrong with the program … it’s all documented, you know, I’m sure it’s all well put together, but there’s a basic difference that I have,” Walt Gray, resident of Phoenix and retired public information officer of the Arizona Department of Transportation, said. “One, and I’m with the West Side Town Hall Steering Committee, we’re a low-income group, so we’re interested in the little guy. And we don’t see the little guy in this.”

President of the West Valley Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind of Arizona Marc Schmidt said he was concerned about the project’s budget.

“I would like to see a more balanced budget and not a gap there, because things can happen, and expenses can be greater than what one anticipates and revenue can fall short, as we know,” he said.

Public Information Officer Matthew Heil said the subcommittee didn’t vote on the recommendation but that it will go under further review.

If approved by the subcommittee, the recommendation will have to be approved by city council before it is implemented.

Correction: Feb. 11, 2015: A previous version of this article stated that the potential sales tax would increase by 0.75 percent. It has been updated to show that the potential tax would have replaced the current transit tax.

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