Trainplotting

Transit-plan backers say they see a bus in your future--so how come they've been working on the railroad?

The cost of installing electrified light-rail lines along this 10-mile corridor has been pegged at $260 million. Installing diesel-powered commuter trains--a less-attractive option because of their limited flexibility--along existing tracks has been estimated to cost $50 million.

"If that money comes in, then that would be the first link," Cantelme says. "If it doesn't, then we would wait, because that's not really a high-traffic corridor."

If that's the case, it could take a while. Ken Driggs, executive director of the Regional Public Transportation Authority, says $130 million in federal matching funds is still well down the road.

"We're something like 80th in line [for the money]," he says.
Twenty-eight floors below Valerie Manning's office, shunted off into a corner of the cavernous concourse level of the Bank One Building, lie the offices of the Goldwater Institute.

It is not easy to find, sandwiched among the gift shops and cafeterias. Yet there it is, clinging like a barnacle to an ocean liner.

This is ground zero against the campaign being orchestrated 27 floors up.
Given the institute's antitax, strongly Libertarian bent, it should come as no surprise that it has come out strongly against the transit initiatives. Fiscally, the institute's policies are very much in line with those of the governor, strongly endorsing charter schools and, in transportation, such pay-as-you-go proposals as toll roads.

John Semmens is the institute's resident transportation expert. Disheveled and bookish, Semmens, a senior planner for ADOT who works as a political consultant on the side, espouses views that sound downright curmudgeonly next to Manning's gleaming vision of a Valley bound together by buses and rail.

Publicly, at least, ADOT tries to distance itself from the outspoken planner.

"It should be clear that Mr. Semmens is exercising his right to speak as an individual--not as a member of ADOT," explains ADOT spokesman Bill Rawson. "Obviously, not everyone's real happy with the situation."

Semmens has penned reams of reports and briefs with titles like Public Transit: A Bad Product at a Bad Price; Public Transit: A Failure Everywhere; and Public Transit: A Financial Disaster.

In addition to congestion pricing, Semmens' suggestions for dealing with traffic and pollution include:

* completing the freeways.
* more car-pooling.
* opening up public bus stops to allow jitneys--small, privately owned vans or buses that offer "door-to-door"-type service--to compete with public buses.

* putting more "smog dogs" on the roads.
At a luncheon hosted by the Arizona Republican Caucus in April, Semmens and other transit opponents launched a tag-team attack against the upcoming initiative.

Neither Manning nor any other transit supporters attended the meeting, which was held in a private club on the top floor of the Bank One Building. Manning's absence was gleefully noted by Becky Fenger, the large-coifed leader of the caucus.

"Guess who's not going to be here?" quipped invitations Fenger had made up for the occasion.

Using figures from Semmens' reports, Goldwater Institute head Jeffrey Flake led off by pointing out that light rail comes in "dead last" in terms of the cost per tons of pollutants removed from the air, and "dead last" in terms of congestion relief.

"If we doubled buses, added 20 miles of light rail, it still would give us only a 1 percent relief in congestion," Flake told the audience.

Flake cited a Semmens-penned report pointing out that Atlanta, which spent $279 million on its transit system in 1994, captured less than 2 percent of passenger miles traveled in the city. Portland, which many in the West have hailed as a model of urban planning, didn't fare much better, he added.

"While they're sipping cappuccino in their urban villages," Flake quipped of Portlanders, "only 2.6 percent of the miles traveled in their city were handled by transit in 1994."

Semmens' numbers are based on Federal Transit Administration data.
Afterward, Flake attacked the rail link between Phoenix and Tempe as another gift from the people of Maricopa County to Jerry Colangelo.

"First we paid for his ballpark, and now he wants us to pay for the train to take people to his ballpark," he scoffed.

Similar themes were echoed by other speakers, including Fenger, who told the crowd that clean fuels would do more to alleviate pollution than all the light rail and buses ever would.

(Fenger's environmental credentials are far from sterling. She is best known for her strong backing of an infamous legislative measure that would have legalized the manufacture of ozone-depleting Freon in Arizona, contrary to federal law. She drives a canary-colored Cadillac. The license plate: "FREON.")

Marv Cronberg, recently retired head of the Arizona Automobile Dealers' Association, also made an appearance. Cronberg had taken the bus from his office near 24th Street and Camelback to the downtown meeting, he said, to make a point.

"It took me almost 40 minutes to get here," Cronberg said. "By car, it would have taken me just 15. My point: In the cities of today, nothing will ever match the ease and convenience of the car."

Cronberg accused city leaders of succumbing to "me-tooism," or what Flake referred to as the "edifice complex": the desire to have trains--or ballparks, or science museums--simply because other cities of similar size have them.

"This is just transit envy," Cronberg said. "We want what everyone else has, and that is not a valid reason for spending billions of dollars."

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