The End of the Line

But a more realistic projection of what will happen comes from House Majority Whip Chris Herstam. "If this proposition goes down, the chances of an immediate response from the legislature to go back to the voters for a different plan would be remote," he says. "There would have to be a period of time for the bitter memories to fade," which he estimates would be at least two years, if not more. Perhaps the next time Jupiter aligns with Mars, supporters muse.

It took longer than that to get a freeway system funded after the voter rejections of the Sixties and Seventies. And the Valley is still paying for that mistake.

NOT ALL THE problems of the ValTrans campaign can be traced to the mistakes of the proponents. The program began with two structural flaws, both the result of closed-door meetings going back to the beginning of the decade when state lawmakers first began to discuss freeways and mass transit.

Actually, they thought only of freeways at first. Lawmakers weren't about to put more state tax dollars into roads. But they did agree to allow voters in the state's two largest counties to decide whether to tax themselves for more miles of concrete and asphalt.

Valley mayors proposed hiking property taxes for freeway construction. But the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce would have no part of that because it would hit businesses far heavier than homeowners. Instead, the chamber proposed hiking the sales tax, an easy tax for business to pass on to customers. City leaders had to back down from the property tax proposal when the business community refused to budge.

Mass transit was, in many ways, the bastard child pushed largely by Goddard and state Representative Art Hamilton. They wanted a single vote on a full penny tax, with half of it for freeways and half for transit. But the pair found little support, especially from the pavement-oriented business community. The strength they did have was in their ability to block the freeway vote.

So a deal was cut: If Maricopa County voters approved the half-cent levy for freeways, some of the dollars would be set aside for buses. There also would be funds to set up the Regional Public Transportation Authority to operate all transit programs in the county, as well as plan a countywide transit system, which is what became known as ValTrans. Voters would have to approve a second half-cent to adopt that plan. And, perhaps most important to Goddard, he got a commitment from the business community not to oppose ValTrans.

That tied the hands of transit planners two ways. The accord mandated that only a sales tax hike could be considered for financing; it also demanded that part of any Maricopa County plan include a regional rapid transit system. Worth says while that didn't specifically require the use of trains, it meant that the program had to be something more than just buses running on city streets.

The regional requirement also meant that transit planners couldn't simply build a small rail line up Central Avenue to see if folks would use mass transit.

Senator Pete Corpstein, who was in the House of Representatives at the time, says this rapid transit requirement was put in at the behest of Goddard. "There were a lot of people in the House who were unhappy about that," recalls Corpstein, who now is one of the leaders of the anti-ValTrans movement. "But [former House Majority Leader] Burt Barr wanted to make this a bipartisan program, and that was that."

Goddard doesn't remember the deal going down exactly that way. "There was some discussion about a bus-only system, which I opposed," the mayor says. But he says he didn't specifically push for the rapid transit requirement.

Barr says he can't recall who inserted the requirement.
Wherever it came from, it's a decision supporters may live to regret. The 103- mile regional rail system has become a lightning rod for opponents, ranging from neighborhood groups who don't want the two-story elevated rail line near them to folks like Chasse, who see a fixed line as too inflexible and too expensive.

But the business community thinks the expense is worth it, having limited its own financial exposure for construction of ValTrans. Make no mistake about it: Businesses will benefit from a rail system. Miller boasts how property values in Atlanta near train stations have increased sharply. Goddard says there has been more than $1 billion worth of new construction near each Atlanta station.

Phoenix isn't the first place where business recognizes how mass transit helps its own interests. Hall's book details how the same thing occurred in San Francisco, where the backers of BART were those in the San Francisco and Oakland business worlds "who saw real advantage in the new patterns of development that the consultants promised, in particular the enhancement of the major commercial centers." Financial support for BART came from Citizens for Rapid Transit, "which was supported by contributions from those business interests (especially banking and construction) that stood to benefit from the bond issue."

It isn't coincidental that much of the funding for the ValTrans campaign has come from banks (Valley National kicked in $50,000; MeraBank added $29,000 to the kitty), engineering firms and bonding houses. Even Hamel--brought in to save the pro-campaign--has ties to the business community, working for a local bonding firm likely to bid on the millions of dollars' worth of bonds to be sold for ValTrans.

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