Light Rail Expansion

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A committee has been formed by the city of Phoenix to triple the length of the light rail over the next 30 years. Phoenix city councilwoman Thelda Williams will talk about the plans.

Ted Simons: The city of Phoenix wants to triple light rail over the next 30 years. The city has formed a committee to look into light rail expansion along with street and bus service improvements. Here with more on the plans is Phoenix city councilwoman Thelda Williams. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Thelda Williams: Thank you, Ted.

Ted Simons: Citizens committee formed, again, the focus is on expansion, light rail, bus service, street, how much expansion are we talking here?

Thelda Williams: We're hoping a lot. Everywhere -- we're hoping we come up with maybe a 30-year plan that we could actually get the light rail not only to Metro Center in the north, west Camelback, down central, and ideally if the economy improves, we could get to Paradise Valley Mall.

Ted Simons: I want to get some of the lines in particular in a second. Are those lines approved by anything or anyone or are those just plans that have been -- somewhat in concrete?

Thelda Williams: Well, actually, the Metro design is underway. Camelback, going out around the capital, out Camelback, that one is on the books, ready to go. And south of Down Central is just in the preliminary stages.

Ted Simons: Let's go to these. We will start with the one going from Christown to Metro Center. There is the map there. This would start in 2016 and end, what, in 2026, something like that?

Thelda Williams: Well, that's what it is on the books for. I'm optimistic that it would be much quicker than that.

Ted Simons: Yeah, although I read somewhere this may not start until 2023 until some of the money starts to come in.

Thelda Williams: It depends on the funding, and the fed funding.

Ted Simons: Another one from downtown, west out to the capital and then along I-10. How far along --

Thelda Williams: I think that is no longer the plan.

Ted Simons: It has changed already.

Thelda Williams: I-10 didn't work for many reasons. It probably will go across Camelback in some fashion.

Ted Simons: What we are looking at here may not be the end result. How would it go straight north then? How -- I don't understand.

Thelda Williams: It kind of winds around to get up north. That had so many problems, and it was going to be so much more expensive that they had to abandon that plan.

Ted Simons: But it would still go out to the capitol.

Thelda Williams: Around the capitol, north and then west.

Ted Simons: North of maybe 19th avenue perhaps?

Thelda Williams: Yeah -- kind of winds.

Ted Simons: Okay. All right. We will wait until it happens. Another one 19th avenue west to maybe like Grand Canyon University and on out to Glendale.

Thelda Williams: Right.

Ted Simons: That one has a good chance?

Thelda Williams: Oh, yes, absolutely.

Ted Simons: And another one would follow as you mention maybe state route 51 up to Paradise Valley Mall?

Thelda Williams: Well, that's a possibility. That alignment hasn't been studied yet. I'm very optimistic -- Dunlap has -- go not only west to --

Ted Simons: I see.

Thelda Williams: West Metro, but could go east --

Ted Simons: Indeed.

Thelda Williams: And there is -- right of way there, we could get there.

Ted Simons: And last one you mentioned was downtown, south along Central to Baseline. What is the deal with that one?

Thelda Williams: That one is just beginning, under study. It takes -- we have to go through all of the different studies, environmental, set the routes and do all of the analysis, and then cost figures before we can get approved.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about some of the cost figures. How much funding needed? Give us a ballpark figure here.

Thelda Williams: We're probably talking a billion.

Ted Simons: A billion.

Thelda Williams: We've spent $1.4 billion on the 20 miles that we have constructed right now.

Ted Simons: And this would be --

Thelda Williams: And this is more than that.

Ted Simons: Yeah. Where would the money come from?

Thelda Williams: It's -- hopefully we are going to have to go out and get the 2000 tax renewed, optimistic that the voters will approve that and we can use that money and begin construction. But I think -- if we have five tenths or six tenths of a cent, we are able to not only do that -- we can address the bus -- we have poor bus service, let's face it. We could provide resurfacing of a lot of streets.

Ted Simons: Current voter approved sales tax ends in 2020. That is four tenths of a percent on the dollar. You are thinking maybe go to the voters next year with five or six tenths of a percent?

Thelda Williams: That's what I'm hoping. What happened to us, the economy, when it tanked, revenue didn't come in. And so what we expected to have built didn't happen because of that.

Ted Simons: What if the voters say no? Is there a plan B, C, D, or E?

Thelda Williams: Well, not yet. The state transportation tax expires shortly after ours. That would probably give us money to operate the current system, but it couldn't be -- we couldn't be expanding.

Ted Simons: From what I saw, it sounds like only five miles could be built in the next six years, before that -- the existing tax -- five miles, that is not a heck of a lot.

Thelda Williams: Nothing.

Ted Simons: And good luck with bus and street service.

Thelda Williams: Oh, absolutely.

Ted Simons: And there is a public -- $130 million shortfall, is that what it is, public transit system program?

Thelda Williams: Transit system -- transit doesn't pay for itself.

Ted Simons: Yeah.

Thelda Williams: Cash-wise, it never will. Was not designed to. The infrastructure is very expensive. Operation is expensive. But we have so many discounts on tickets, veterans, schools, companies, different corporations buy at a different rate. We discount so many tickets because we want the ridership. EPA requires we keep the air clean, keeps traffic off the street, and it makes a lot of people in my district happy when you get the cars outs of the way coming downtown. Advantages that we pay for when we subsidize it.

Ted Simons: And you do need to get some committed funds, I think it is operating costs in order to get the federal dollars. Federal money is not going to come unless there is a plan in place.

Thelda Williams: Exactly. Unless we have it in place early. We can't wait until 2018, 2019 . It's too late. Because they program out their funds. And we all know they have less funds, more competitive. So, we have to have our package ready. We have to get in there early to be a legitimate candidate to receive federal money.

Ted Simons: And that is what this committee is designed to do. Who is on this committee, anyway?

Thelda Williams: We're lucky it is -- we have former secretary of transportation, Mary peters and Marty Shultz -- the cochairs, and then we have people who are interested. We have transportation people from other areas, and citizens from our districts.

Ted Simons: I was going to ask about a resident input. What do you need there and how can folks just say, here, I have an idea? A pothole in front of the street. Let's get it fixed.

Thelda Williams: We get lots of calls every day.

Ted Simons: I bet you do.

Thelda Williams: Well, we are setting up a web page. I think it is, if I recall right.

Ted Simons: I think it might be dot ORG.

Thelda Williams: Yeah -- and once we have a couple of meetings, going out to the community for input and we welcome it.

Ted Simons: Want people involved.

Ted Simons: I know when people do get involved, you are going to hear a lot about bus service and you are going to hear a lot about street improvement. Is there anything in general that you are looking at right now -- we hear a lot about light rail, but what about the bus service and what about improving the streets?

Thelda Williams: They're essential. There are already recognized over $500 million of street repairs we need. $500 million. That's a lot of money that we don't have. It is only going to get worse. Everything from your residential streets, but when you stop and think it's not just the arterials, the main streets, but all of them and we have over 5,000 miles of streets in the city of Phoenix that should be on a 20-year maintenance schedule that are on a 40-some maintenance schedule. No wonder they're falling apart.

Ted Simons: We will see what the committee comes up with and the input you get from residents. Good to have you here. Thank you so much.

Thelda Williams: Thank you for having me.

Thelda Williams:Councilwoman, Phoenix;

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