Light Rail Expansion Opposition

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Plans are underway in Phoenix to expand light rail by 22 miles. The city is considering asking voters for an increase in the sales tax to pay for the expansion. Opposition is forming to the plan. Becky Fenger of No Tax for More Tracks will discuss why her group opposes light rail expansion.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon," not everyone is pleased with plans to expand light rail in Phoenix. We'll look at the U.S. chamber of commerce assessment of Arizona education. And we'll hear about a collaboration between two art groups in Scottsdale. That's all next on "Arizona Horizon". Video: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Phoenix is thinking of asking residents to extend the city's transportation sales tax to help fund an expansion of public transit, including an additional 22 miles of light rail. We've heard from the mayor and others who support the plan, tonight we hear an opposing voice, Becky Fenger, chair of the group no tax for more tracks. Good to have you here. Welcome to "Horizon."

Becky Fenger: Great to be here, Ted.

Ted Simons: Plans to triple light rail in Phoenix, why not?

Becky Fenger: Oh, my, I fail to see how it's a wise decision in any way to spend billions of dollars to buy yourself more pollution and congestion. See, I got into this almost 20 years ago because I am a firm believer in keeping sound science and public policy formation. This whole thing on light rail was sold as cleaning our air. You'll get clean air. And what we discovered when we went in to the bowels of the environmental impact statement reports, is that actually it will give us more pollution and congestion. That is specifically pollution in the air, carbon monoxide, carbon monoxide --

Ted Simons: Right.

Becky Fenger: And --

Ted Simons: How does it -- if it keeps cars off of the road.

Becky Fenger: No it doesn't, it takes about one car in 1,000 off of the road. Anyhow, what it does is take all of these lanes of traffic of roads and takes them away for the light rail. It usually takes about three lanes to use for light rail. All of that traffic that would be moving down the road now is stopped because it gets right-of-way, you can't make left turns in many places and cars are backed up and they're idling. The very fact they said it will clean the air when, indeed, although the number is small, indeed it will increase air pollution and the congestion.

Ted Simons: So, you have air pollution concerns and we have to look those studies up ourselves as well -

Becky Fenger: No, you don't. I have the page number. Boy, are we loaded for bear.

Ted Simons: Has light rail in Phoenix thus far been a bad thing?

Becky Fenger: Well, I certainly think so. No city in which it is built do they get by without huge deficits. The average operating deficit of the 23 or so cities that had it was the average, $200 million a year. You will have constant maintenance and one thing that is always -- not always, but quite often overlooked when you're talking about cost benefits is they don't factor in maintenance and operations. For instance, Portland, their light rail is now 24 years old. And light rail supposedly is supposed to last about 30 years. It's already crumbling. So, time flies. By the time you want to do extensions, you are going to be rebuilding, and it's double as expensive to repair light rail that has been laid and is crumbling.

Ted Simons: Those who support light rail, $7 billion, give or take -- $7 billion existing line already, downtown has -- and development in midtown has been helped by light rail. Are they wrong?

Becky Fenger: Well, you're wrong if you are talking about who has it benefited. Has it benefited a lot? It has benefited those lucky few for which this plan to tax all of the people in Maricopa County, if you are -- or all of the people in Phoenix for the half of a percent, one half of one percent that ride light rail. And the very lucky developers, those who own real estate along the planned lines or on planned lines, if they have real estate, the bankers love the bondings, and rock products love building it. There is a few that make out on it, but the average person is subsidizing it so heavily, and, remember this, right now 99% of the travel is done in automobiles. Cars and trucks. If we build all of the extensions that the -- that they're talking about building, we will have with light rail, buses and everything together, only one percent of the population riding on light rail. And if you take -- I mean on transit, and if you take light rail only, it is one half of one percent. I had to correct -- you mentioned it wrong that people who gave those numbers to the city of Phoenix, did not equip themselves well.

Ted Simons: Well, but again --

Becky Fenger: When they gave that two to four percent. If we had four percent of people riding light rail, that is one half of one percent. That is off by a factor of eight. Eight, Ted --

Ted Simons: I got you. I got the numbers there. I think what the supporters will say and what the mayor has said on the show and a council member as well, yes, you have all of that, but that is secondary to moving Phoenix forward, making Phoenix a greater city, giving of the infrastructure a chance to build around light rail -- rider ship already at 20/20 levels they say. When the ridership improves, increases, you're ready, set, go.

Becky Fenger: If you double ridership, it's still only going to be one percent of people riding transit or riding light rail, if you double the numbers. So, that's like saying that I have one boyfriend and now I double the man I'm dating in my life and I have two boyfriends. You are talking with such a pittance, yet they get for transportation, they get like 16% of the budget. I'm willing to give them one percent of the transit tax, since that's all that will ride it. Do you follow me --

Ted Simons: I do -

Becky Fenger: Where is the morality of taxing people, maybe a single mother, so that an attorney who can make $400,000 a year gets subsidized most of his trip to come down central and -

Ted Simons: That gets into the user tax argument. We can get to that a little bit. We only have a minute left here. I want to go back to what I talked about originally, with all of the development along light rail as we see it now, would Phoenix be better off if light rail had never been built?

Becky Fenger: Oh, absolutely. They would be better off pollution and congestion and then it's your opportunity costs. You have to prioritize. Wonderful column where he says, look, when you have a limited amount of money, priorities ties what you want. You are well aware the infrastructure is crumbling, our roads -- what do people care about most, potholes in roads and getting where they want to go.

Ted Simons: I think -- supposed to address that --

Becky Fenger: No, it won't. Light rail always sucks everything away and what they end up doing people happily riding buses which can move and are portable, can follow transportation shifts, then money is sucked from the buses and in fact they sued successfully in California because light rail gobbles it all up.

Ted Simons: We have to let you go here we're running out of time.

Becky Fenger: I'll be back.

Ted Simons: In Scottsdale, you are involved in efforts from keeping light rail from happening in Scottsdale. You're against this. Would you support any light rail anywhere?

Becky Fenger: No, light rail has shown to be a -- in all 23 cities where it is has decreased the quality of life in everyone of them and I have the papers to show that.

Ted Simons: Thank you, Becky, for joining us.

Becky Fenger: Oh, fun, Ted, fun.

Becky Fenger:Chairman, No Tax for More Tracks;

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