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Metro Phoenix freeway projects shelved

PHP4AE93520E9F15[Source: Sean Holstege, Arizona Republic] — Billions of dollars in voter-approved Valley freeway-expansion work will be postponed and scaled back after plummeting tax revenue forced a regional transportation panel to slash spending Wednesday night.  The Regional Council of the Maricopa Association of Governments voted to cut a $16 billion freeway-improvement program to just $9.4 billion.  The projects are funded by Proposition 400, a countywide measure that created a half-percent sales tax and was passed by voters in 2004.

The South Mountain Freeway, a bypass designed to relieve traffic congestion on Interstate 10, survived the cuts.  But controversy over that extension of Loop 202 took an unexpected turn when Joseph Manuel, the Gila River Indian Community’s representative on the panel, announced that the tribe would be willing to consider a proposal to build it on tribal land.  He abstained from the otherwise unanimous vote to cut funding.

Other proposals to build, widen and make other improvements to Valley freeways will be pushed back until after Prop. 400’s end date of 2025.  Because of the recession, MAG planners are projecting a $6.6 billion shortfall over the next 15 years…

Planners also found opportunities to use money more wisely in central Phoenix.  The Prop. 400 plan originally called for improvements on Interstate 17 between Dunlap Avenue and the Stack interchange with I-10.  Planners are now exploring whether Prop. 400 money would be spent more effectively if a lane were added in each direction as I-17 runs past downtown Phoenix between the airport and the Stack… [Note: Read the full article at Metro Phoenix freeway projects shelved.]

2050 vision for metro Phoenix: 400 miles of new highways

[Source: Sean Holstege, Arizona Republic] — Picture new Phoenix-size cities beyond the mountains to the far south and west of the Valley, and you get a glimpse of how the region’s future might unfold over the next half-century.  Now imagine how twice as many people as live here today would get around such a vastly expanded urban landscape, and you begin to appreciate the enormous challenge facing state and regional transportation planners.

To cope with Arizona’s anticipated long-range population boom, planners at the Maricopa Association of Governments have sketched out a far-reaching network of new freeways and highways beyond the White Tank and Estrella mountains, serving an area larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined, and an urban landscape stretching as far as the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station.

MAG’s plans envision 400 miles of new highways and 320 miles of rail track to support the millions of people projected to move into the vast desert area by 2050.  That would double the current highway system and create a commuter-rail network that would loop around the southern mountains and deliver a badly needed line to the West Valley.  MAG estimates that it would cost the region a daunting $60 billion to build all the projects on its drawing boards.

Residents already concerned about sprawl wonder, with traffic and air quality as bad as they are today, how unbearable metropolitan Phoenix will become with 8 million people living here.  Others react with skepticism.  They question whether the economy would ever be strong enough to lure such numbers of people here or whether sufficient water or electricity would be available to support such far-flung growth.  “Being able to stop all these people coming is probably impossible, but is this plan really possible?  Could this really happen?  And if it could, should it?” says Dave Richins, state policy director for the Sonoran Institute, a non-profit group that advocates desert preservation.

The strategy is based on decades-old migration and birth statistics and on existing land- development rights.  Long-range plans for roads to serve non- existent cities don’t foster speculative sprawl, the planners say; they anticipate what’s already in the works.

The Arizona Department of Transportation is looking ahead and next month will unveil an expansive long-term blueprint for the entire state.  The agency’s director, John Halikowski, described the scope as “breathtaking.”  [Note: Read the full article at 2050 vision for metro Phoenix: 400 miles of new highways.]

Metro Phoenix homeless count up 20% from 2008

[Source: Yvonne Wingett, Arizona Republic] — More single adults, families, and youths are living on the streets in metro Phoenix.  A Maricopa Association of Governments survey counted 2,918 homeless people throughout the county this year, a 20 percent increase from the 2,426 counted in 2008.  The Homeless Street Count found 230 families living on the streets, up 370 percent from last year’s count of 49 families.  The number of youths living on their own rose to 139, more than triple last year’s count. 

Each January, hundreds of agency workers, police officers, city employees and volunteers hit the streets to count the homeless.  Their findings are used to request federal funding for homeless services and to improve and expand services for non-profits.  This year’s increase in the homeless population comes after a 15 percent decline a year ago, said Brande Mead, a human-services planner with the Maricopa Association of Governments.

The count does not include the number of people living in shelters, which numbered nearly 5,000 last year, she said.  The state Department of Economic Security is conducting this year’s shelter survey; the results could be available early next week, Mead said.

The bad economy is to blame for the increase in the homeless population, experts said.  “We’re seeing more elderly, more disabled (homeless),” said Mark Holleran, CEO of Central Arizona Shelter Services, or CASS, in downtown Phoenix.  “It just appears to be the overall result of what’s happening… with the loss of jobs and the shaky economy” and with government agencies cutting back.  There is also an uptick in the number of homeless veterans, Holleran said, which he thinks could further increase as a result of the war in Iraq.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Metro Phoenix light-rail, bus fares may go up due to increased costs

[Source: Kerry Fehr-Snyder, Arizona Republic] — Before the Valley’s light-rail service ever begins, the cost to ride the train and city buses may be headed up.  The issue of raising the Valley’s regional fare policy has been brewing for several months as transit officials have struggled to cover rising gas prices and other increased operation costs, said Greg Jordan, Tempe’s transit administrator.  Transit and light-rail costs are covered by a half-cent sales tax, which has fallen over the past year.

Sales-tax revenue fell by about 8 percent in August compared with the same month a year ago, according to the Maricopa Association of Governments.  Proposals to raise fares are expected to come before Valley Metro’s board, which oversees bus and light-rail service and is comprised of Valley mayors and City Council members, in January and February. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Funding setback for light-rail metro Phoenix expansion?

[Source: Ron Sanzone, Arizona Republic] — Unless an appeal to get Proposition 203 on the ballot succeeds, light rail will lose a chance to win hundreds of millions of dollars for the system’s expansion.  The Secretary of State’s office announced Monday that the Arizona measure to raise $42.6 billion in transportation funds through a 1 cent sales tax increase did not receive enough valid signatures to qualify for November’s ballot.  Transportation and Infrastructure Moving Arizona’s Economy, the organization that wrote the TIME Act, as the initiative is also known, is expected to appeal the decision.

If the appeal succeeds and voters approve the new tax, Maricopa County would receive $600 million for what the Arizona Department of Transportation categorizes as “light rail, modern streetcar, and related high capacity transit.”  According to TIME, up to $400 million of that money would go to expanding the Valley’s light rail system.  However, ADOT says that it would decide along with Maricopa Association of Governments how to allocate the full $600 million that includes the light rail project in the county.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Possible rail service between downtown Phoenix & Wickenburg

[Source: Cecilia Chan, Arizona Republic] — A proposal for commuter rail service that would carry passengers between downtown Phoenix and Wickenburg is picking up steam.  The Maricopa Association of Governments Executive Committee this week hired URS to come up with detailed options to implement commuter service along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway line on the Grand Avenue corridor.  The firm, which is based in San Francisco and has an office in Phoenix, also will look at such components as cost and potential ridership.  “It would allow people who live here to travel quickly to the urban center, which is Tempe, Mesa, and downtown Phoenix,” said Peoria Councilman Ron Aames, who sits on the MAG Transportation Policy Committee.  Aames said that the population of Maricopa County is expected to double over the next 25 years and that “we need to move things forward to reduce congestion and pollution.  It’s a win-win all around.”

The study will commence in the next six to eight weeks and take a year to complete, said Kevin Wallace, MAG Transit Program manager.  Meetings to solicit public input and provide updates will be held as the study develops, he said.  The study will look at what capital improvements are needed, where to site stations and how to tie commuter rail in with buses and light rail.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

City Council balks at terms for regional transit/planning building

[Source: Casey Newton, Arizona Republic] — A plan to locate the county’s major transit and planning agencies in downtown Phoenix is on life support following the Phoenix City Council’s opposition to tax breaks for the project.  For more than a year, the Maricopa Association of Governments, the Regional Public Transportation Authority, and Metro light rail have discussed sharing a building, hoping co-locating would lead to cost savings and better cooperation between the agencies.  A fourth agency, the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association, is also participating.

An initial effort to construct a building at taxpayer expense failed when elected officials balked at the high price tag.  Earlier this year, focus shifted to buying an existing building somewhere in downtown Phoenix.  Now that effort is collapsing as well.  The board of Metro light rail voted Wednesday to reject a proposal to move to 210 E. Earll Drive, the consensus pick of MAG and RPTA.  Metro found that its share of the building would be $30.8 million, or 15% higher than the cost remaining at their current location in the 101 Building downtown.

The cost to move into the new building was higher than expected because Mayor Phil Gordon and a majority of the council oppose allowing the agencies to lease the building from Phoenix at a discounted rate.  Gordon might support such an agreement if the location were closer to downtown Phoenix, a spokesman said.  The council has a policy of not allowing the tax break, known as the government property lease excise tax, outside the downtown core.  MAG and RPTA are meeting this week and next to discus the Earll location.  Unless a new spot is agreed upon by December, the agencies will likely be on their own, officials said.

MAG holds downtown Phoenix hearing on transit future, June 26

Hey there, I'm a Valley Metro bus[Source: Kevin Tripp, KTAR Radio, June 24, 2008] — If you think the commute is bad now, imagine what it will be like getting around the Valley in the year 2030 — or 2050.  The Maricopa Association of Governments wants your idea on what public transit should be like in the future.  “We are wanting to talk to transit users, people who may not use the transit system today, but may be thinking about it in the future, even people who aren’t users who may not be using it in the future.  We want to hear from everyone about what role transit should play in our overall transportation system,” said MAG’s Kevin Wallace.

MAG is sponsoring a series of public meetings to get feedback on whether citizens would like more bus service, more light fail, or some other form of transit in the future.  “We’re looking to get input on where we may need more or better transit services in the region,” Wallace said.  “We’re looking for input on what the transit priorities for our region should be.”  Wallace said results of the study will be given to county planners, who are looking at transportation systems as far out as 40 years from now.

Thursday, June 26, 2008, 6 to 8 p.m.
ASU Downtown Phoenix Campus, Mercado C131
502 E. Monroe, Phoenix, AZ 85004

Bike map for metro Phoenix unveils access to light-rail service

Bicyclists taking a ride[Source: Kerry Fehr-Snyder, Arizona Republic, June 24, 2008] — Regional transportation planners have updated the Valley’s ballooning map of bicycle routes to help two-wheel travelers better navigate city streets and canal paths to get to work or to school, or for exercise.  The new map is the first to include routes tied to the light-rail system.  Riders of bicycles will be able to take their bikes aboard when trains start running Dec. 27.  The map is the first update in three years.  Since 2001, the number of bike lanes, bike routes, undesignated routes, and paved and unpaved trails has grown to 2,522 miles.

Maureen DeCindis of Tempe, an avid cyclist, is happy that the Valley’s bicycling scene is improving.  “I’m trying to make people get out there,” said DeCindis, who often bicycles 13 miles from Tempe to her office in downtown Phoenix.  “People always say they can’t ride to work or to get groceries or whatever,” she said, “but what I always tell them is to take the easy way.”  DeCindis is a transportation planner for the Maricopa Association of Governments, a regional group responsible for Valley-wide transportation planning, including the new regional map of bicycle routes.  The agency’s offices are at First Avenue and Van Buren Street. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]