The End of the Line

His main argument against ValTrans is simple enough. "I sincerely feel that we have to complete the freeway system," says Chasse, plugging into a public fear that money spent for mass transit somehow translates into fewer dollars for asphalt. That fear is grounded in the very real fact that the first half-cent sales tax for freeways won't raise as much as originally anticipated over its twenty-year life. And the cost of the 200-plus mile system has skyrocketed, both from changes demanded by neighborhood groups and from land speculators buying up property in the path of the freeways. Chasse acknowledges that he foresees voters being asked once again to increase sales taxes to complete the freeways, and he fears voters will be tapped out if ValTrans is passed.

Chasse also decries the price tag of the system, particularly the $3.8 billion it will cost to construct the rail lines. Putting aside his fabricated publicity on the cost per family, Chasse and the ValTrans opponents pick and choose the figures they want to prove their points.

For example, Chasse says--quite correctly--that when ValTrans is built it will reduce the total number of vehicles on the road by only about 2 percent. But what he leaves out is that highways are not equally crowded around the clock. And the frustrating times for motorists are during rush hours.

Glendale Mayor Renner also puts Chasse's complaints about a 2 percent reduction in traffic in perspective. Renner notes only 5 percent of the total traffic is on the freeways today, while the remainder is on city streets. Renner says that even when the additional 200-plus miles of freeways are completed in 20 years--at a cost of $5.7 billion--they will be handling only 10 percent of overall traffic. And, by that time, they already will be more than 30 percent over capacity. He doesn't see much difference between a half-cent tax for freeways to reduce street congestion by 5 percent and a half-cent tax for mass transit to decrease congestion, even if only by 2 percent.

Chasse's freeway-only philosophy also ignores the practical problem that the roads being built aren't going to go everywhere that the rail lines are planned, such as up 44th Street and along Scottsdale Road. And if he thinks the neighbors would prefer a new six-lane freeway tearing up homes to a 28-foot- wide guideway right over the street, he's sadly mistaken.

Chasse says there are alternatives to mass transit, such as van pooling. "How many people did you take to work with you?" he asks. But Chasse inadvertently debunks his own suggestion, acknowledging that he drives alone. "I'm guilty, too," he admits. Special lanes for high-occupancy vehicles also help, Chasse says, like the ones being built on the Maricopa and Papago Freeways. He conveniently forgets that passage of ValTrans would set aside $350 million for construction of such HOV lanes on some planned freeways. And Chasse doesn't explain how it would be physically possible to add two additional lanes to the Valley's workhorse freeway, the Black Canyon.

He also suggests other measures to reduce traffic congestion, including staggered work hours and more one-way streets. "They move traffic and cut down on accidents."

He bristles at the obvious comparison with Los Angeles, which made a decision decades ago that new freeways and a handful of buses would be more than enough to handle that community's growing transportation needs. He says the fact that L.A.'s freeway-only program has been an abysmal failure doesn't mean it can't work here. Of course, he doesn't give transit the same break, but constantly points to its dismal failure elsewhere as evidence that it can't work here.

"Los Angeles has 14 million people," Chasse says. "We have only 2 million people; in 30 years we will have only 5 million."

Even admitting his freeway fixation, Chasse insists he's not opposed to mass transit. "I'm not against a sensible bus system," he says. But he side steps questions of whether he would support the program to bring the Valley's bus system up to 1,500 buses if the rail lines were not part of the system. "I don't know what the routes are, I don't know what the schedule is going to be, I don't know if they're going to go into neighborhoods," Chasse complains.

Chasse and other opponents always come back to the multibillion-dollar cost. Consider the arguments of John Semmens, economist with the two-person Laissez Faire Institute in Tempe, who trots out a whole set of figures to show how mass transit--and rail systems in particular--are not cost-effective. The message is that there will be massive subsidies of transit riders by folks who will never use the system but instead drive on freeways.

Goddard recognizes what's lost in that argument. "`Freeways' is perhaps the biggest misnomer in the lexicon," the mayor says. "Freeways are not free."

State engineer Tom Bryant says that it costs taxpayers anywhere from $15 million to $27 million for each mile of freeway that is built in the Valley. And that isn't the end of it: The state Department of Transportation estimates that it costs, on average, about $5,000 per year to maintain each mile of freeway in the state.

Worth figures it another way. He says the 30-year ValTrans budget of $10.4 billion is only a small percentage of the $283 billion Valley residents will spend over the same period of time on transportation costs, including buying new cars, gasoline, insurance premiums and construction and maintenance costs of urban freeways.

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