The politics of light rail and transit development can create some pretty heated discussions and bring out some very strong opinions. I am often reminded of this as I attend planning meetings for extensions, listen to city officials talk of “their” projects, and read papers and blogs about the process, etc. This morning’s story in the Republic by Rebekah Sanders and Scott Wong discussing Glendale’s desire to adjust the light rail path has some classic examples of posturing and differing opinions of city officials, as well as, a ton of “interesting” comments on the AZ Central site. The comments, as usual, range from one extreme to the other. In the article, Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs is quoted as saying “I don’t believe we will ever have light rail in Glendale if we go by what’s on the map.” The topic of changing the route from the original plan, where the system goes to downtown Glendale’s shops, to a new plan routing through the stadium district is gonna be an interesting battle on many fronts. In 2001, the route sounded great to Glendale as the existing downtown shops certainly welcomed the accessibility. Fast forward to post stadium votes, and Glendale now appears to want more people to the stadium area, which is seeing a tremendous amount of development surrounding baseball, football and hockey.
With rail projects typically relying on large percentages of federal funding, along with regional (county) and city funding, one can easily see how this political process can cause controversy. With Phoenix being the largest player in the game, they are certainly holding many of the cards. It is interesting that the new proposal to extend the route further along 1-10 is the one that appears to be the choice of many. This route choice is said to help alleviate traffic along the freeways and get the most people to job centers near the stadium, etc. One argument against the line running down the middle of the freeway is that you don’t get as much economic benefit for the neighborhoods along the line. For example, look at the businesses that are enjoying more traffic and awareness near light rail stops along the 20 miles of our “starter” line. Running a line down the freeway might not create as much benefit for the communities along the route. On the other hand, moving large amounts of people quickly and efficiently from Glendale to Phoenix just might have some benefits as well.
I often hear city officials speak about the impact on their individual cities, and they act as if the line only effects them and not the region as a whole. Some of the bickering in today’s article is just another reminder of that. In the article, Glendale mentions some willingness to promote Phoenix, but it has a we-will-mention-you-if-you-pay-for-it feel. Mayor Gordon has been pretty consistent with his “Phoenix only” quotes, as have been many other city officials. This is understandable as they are elected by their cities to look out for them. Keep in mind though, that the line benefits the entire region through regional and county sales tax, etc.
Other bloggers have opinions and information on future light rail extensions, as well. Most of us agree that it will be very interesting to see how all of this plays out.