The End of the Line
Dedicated to the memory of Ed Abbey, an Arizonan who understood that it is important to litter the asphalt paths of America with beer cans pitched from a fast-moving vehicle.
Larry Miller, director of the Regional Public Transportation Authority (RPTA), sat in New Times' conference room and lied to the entire editorial staff. He lied about the Central Corridor route in downtown Phoenix of the rapid rail ValTrans.
Cynical reporters are familiar with bureaucrats who fabricate, invent, fib, misstate, exaggerate, dupe or gull. But outright lies are rare and this one was a beaut. Miller's whopper went to the very heart of people's fears over the siting of rail lines through neighborhoods.
Miller's astounding performance was no more amazing than that of Mayor Terry Goddard.
Goddard has been selling ValTrans by telling audiences that 30 percent of the work force in the Central Corridor now takes buses back and forth from home to the job site. The mayor's point is that with the newly increased availability of rush-hour buses on Central Avenue, folks are opting for mass transit over the convenience of cars. This is a critical argument.
Voters on March 28 are being asked to tax themselves $8.4 billion to construct one of America's most ambitious mass transit systems. The big question in everyone's mind is whether or not commuters will abandon the luxury of their own car to ride public trains and buses.
Despite the fact that almost every national study done on the question finds that people will not give up their automobiles, Goddard's reassuring argument is that because the Central Avenue buses run often enough to be convenient, Phoenix residents already ride mass transit in unprecedented numbers.
Unfortunately, the mayor studied statistics at Joe Isuzu Tech.
Central Avenue is as good a crucible as any to examine ValTrans as portrayed by Mayor Goddard and bureaucrat Miller.
Mayor Goddard refers to Central Avenue, the very heart of the Valley of the Sun, as our Champs Elysees. If you will accept the mayor's Gallic conceit, consider then that, ValTrans est omnis divisia in partes tres: ridership, air quality and leadership.
The New Times newspaper is located close to Central Avenue, where it is easy enough to observe passengers waiting for the bus. When the mayor asserted that 30 percent of the downtown workers were taking the bus, there was a certain astonishment in these offices. How could the thin lines at the transit stops possibly contain one third of all the high-rise employees?
A quick check of census-tract figures yielded an approximate number of total wage slaves in downtown Phoenix. A call to the bus company revealed that even if every single one of its passengers in Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale, Mesa, Paradise Valley, Peoria, Sun City, and Chandler worked downtown, it still would not constitute one third of the work force in the Central Corridor.
On a hunch, New Times contacted various businesses on Central Avenue to see how many of their employees rode the bus. The result:
Company Employees Bus Riders
Lewis and Roca 350 0 Brown & Bain 217 2
Touche Ross 145 2
Arthur Andersen 150 5
Bryan Cave 44 0
TOTALS 906 9
The lady at Arizona Public Service said its 800 employees benefit from a transportation coordination program and yet she couldn't even guess how few employees take the bus. She did say that car-pooling was more popular than the bus. (And we all know how popular car-pooling is.) APS is one of the chief supporters of ValTrans. And if workers from the giant utility's downtown office are not riding the bus in great numbers, the lady from APS was at least optimistic. "We're doing our share," she said.
Goddard claims 30 percent of the Central Corridor work force uses the bus and yet our decidedly unscientific phone survey found only 1 percent participation.
Perhaps the problem was one of awareness. Perhaps if workers were more aware of the issues involved, they would use mass transit.
Well then, what about the editors of New Times?
Surely, no group's consciousness could be higher. The publication has repeatedly written about the issues of air pollution, sprawl, urban infrastructure, freeways, superheated development and mass transit.
In fact, New Times' editor, Jana Bommersbach, mentioned these very points when she argued that this paper ought to endorse ValTrans.
Yet Bommersbach does not take the bus to and from work even though she lives directly off Central Avenue. And no one is holding their breath waiting for her to begin.
Editors Ward Harkavy and Christine Tschopp are no different. Between them, they drive a sensible Volkswagen beetle and a Volvo. If such as these will not give up the convenience of their cars, then who?
Harkavy said the bus line works just great for him but he's only used it the couple of times his car was broken down.
Tschopp wanted to test the new and improved bus lines on Central Avenue as the ValTrans vote neared. At press time she had not yet managed to take that test.
The reality is that ValTrans and mass transit, at least as envisioned and practiced in the Valley of the Sun, are yuppie pipe dreams. It's a great idea. For the other guy.
We did discover one way to get people to ride the bus: Give the rides away. Following visits by representatives of City Hall, businesses like US West Communications, Snell & Wilmer, Valley National Bank, and Jennings Strouss & Salmon agreed to pick up one-half to two-thirds of the cost of their employees' bus tickets.
If you think Valley business leaders will continue with this sort of benevolent socialism, you probably believe that 30 percent of the downtown work force is already riding the bus during rush hour.
Exaggerated claims for future riders of mass transit are just as consistent as the absence of passengers once the rail lines are in place. From Washington, D.C., to Atlanta, from Buffalo to Portland, San Jose to Sacramento, there is one clear pattern: No one rides the rails the way supporters had hoped they would.
But even if ValTrans finds riders at predicted levels, the two unbiased studies done to date suggest that the reduction in Phoenix's air pollution will be negligible.
County air pollution authorities admit that no one should look to ValTrans to clear the air.
The problem is that the entire Valley economy is geared toward growth. With the outer loops of the freeway system we are opening up yet more tracts of desert to homes with three-car garages. As long as we encourage and subsidize unregulated growth, air pollution will be our constant shadow, with or without ValTrans.
If we opt for ValTrans, what sort of political leadership can we expect in the three decades of construction that will follow?
For the last ten years, local citizens have shed blood attempting to stop developers from tearing apart neighborhoods in behalf of "progress." It has been the longest running and most bitter civic issue in the Valley.
Subdivisions, freeways and high-rises have all slashed through established neighborhoods. Now residents must ask themselves if a yuppie pipe dream, rapid transit, will be the next menace to bulldoze homes and lower property values. And when businessman and homeowner disagree about the routing of ValTrans, as they surely must, will the city fathers protect the average voter?
Larry Miller's behavior shows why City Hall cannot be trusted. RPTA director Miller told New Times that he and his staff convinced Central Avenue business leaders to keep ValTrans off the Valley's principal thoroughfare. The businesses wanted the elevated rail line on Central, but Miller said he convinced them it would be better to route ValTrans through the established neighborhoods on First and Second Avenues.
Although Miller's fairy tale takes responsibility for destroying the neighborhood west of Central Avenue, it also leaves the impression that bureaucrat Miller and his staff are in charge and leading the way.
What actually happened was that the business leaders on Central demanded that ValTrans be kept off their boulevard. The merchants want the benefits of mass transit only as long as it is routed through the nearby neighborhood.
In a secret agreement, Mayor Terry Goddard and the city council ratified this route, and the big banks and utility companies of Central Avenue continue to be major contributors to the pro-ValTrans compaign.
This surreptitious method of routing rapid transit does not bode well for other Phoenix neighborhoods worried that ValTrans might be rammed through their backyards.
This newspaper should support mass transit for greater Phoenix. But it cannot.
New Times, with its history of support of progressive issues, was expected to editorialize in favor of the March 28 public vote on the $8.4 billion in sales tax funding for ValTrans.
Instead, we must shoot the unicorn.
There is something about the term "mass transit" that swats people dizzy just as surely as if they'd been struck by lightning.
Normally intelligent people simply will not question mass transit in Phoenix. For an entire generation weaned upon the sober milk of MacNeil-Lehrer, NPR, Montessori, sun-dried tomatoes, Lamaze, pledge drives and personal computers, mass transit is synonymous with good government and an urban landscape atwinkle in white wine.
The local opposition to ValTrans is that same cast of predictable tiny heads who think that quality of life refers to gold hoarding, weapons collecting and fevered outbursts about the dangers of fluoridation in water supplies. In this camp, the watchword is cost. If mass transit costs anything at all, then it costs too much for this group which simply believes taxes were conceived by the anti-Christ. Their spokesman, Senator Pete Corpstein, prides himself on wearing suits cut to accommodate a prehensile tail. (In fact the cost of ValTrans is a green herring. Freeways are expensive as hell even before you account for the hidden costs of maintenance and air pollution.)
The ValTrans debate, pro and con, is rich with the sort of practical wisdom one finds dispensed by chaplains in prison yards.
Rapid rail advocate Mayor Terry Goddard suggests parents could reduce skyrocketing auto insurance premiums by having their teen-agers date on buses instead of taking the family car. Mayor Goddard has never married, never fathered a child, and never talked sternly to an adolescent except when shaving. Only a doofus could suggest that teen-agers would date on city buses.
George Chasse, freeway and asphalt devotee, argues loudly that ValTrans isn't necessary because everyone could car-pool. The Politburo in Communist Russia could not force its people to car-pool. Even if the Russians had cars.
Is it any wonder that the most common sentiment regarding the billion-dollar ValTrans vote is one of confusion?
Watching the thoughtless argument for and against ValTrans in this Arizona desert recalls the grizzled Walter Huston dancing a furious jig in the Treasure of the Sierra Madre as he laughs maniacally at prospectors Humphrey Bogart and Tim Holt.
"Nuts, nuts am I? Let me tell you something, my two fine bedfellows; you're so dumb there's nothing to compare you with.
"You're dumber than the dumbest jackass. Look at each other, will ya?
"You ever see anything like yourself for being dumb specimens?
"You're so dumb you don't even see the riches you're treading on with your own feet."
The "riches" of Phoenix are different from the qualities found in other towns. We are a community of wide open space with a premium placed upon freedom of movement and opportunity. Physically, the city is the third largest in America. While most cities are compact, Phoenix sprawls forever toward the horizon. ValTrans advocates cite the success of rapid rail in Vancouver, a town with only 44 square miles compared to the 420 of Phoenix.
For better or worse, we have created a new style of American city. Yet we now think that the square peg of mass transit, a technology engineered specifically for the problems of congested urban cities, can be shoehorned into the round hole of Sunbelt excess.
Well-intentioned do-gooders like columnist Neal Peirce visit Phoenix and moan that we have large yards with walls and therefore no one knows his neighbor.
I don't want to know my neighbor. I'm sick of my neighbor.
I fled the East. I left behind the elderly Italian women hanging out of the windows who watched every movement on the street like crones of prey. Let the East Coast keep its tenements, its condominiums, its beehives of human noise.
Phoenix represents space. Maricopa County is bigger than some states.
People enjoy Phoenix because of the space and the freedom created by cars.
I grew up back east riding buses. I missed appointments when buses were late; I've cursed myself when I was late and the bus was on time. I've sat jammed so close to people on buses that there was no sense of privacy or decency left. I've been attacked on buses. I've sat next to the insane on buses and waited for our conversation to begin. My grandmother and I moved from one end of a state to the other like white-trash Okies upon the Greyhound.
Our mayor thinks Valley teen-agers ought to date on city bus lines. Unlike Goddard, I once took a sixteen-year-old lady out on the Newark city bus. She was dressed in a semiformal and the experience made no small impression upon her. One does not get lucky upon the bus.
I have never ridden a Phoenix city bus. And I don't intend to start. I hate buses.
Yes, we have a problem with cars here in the Valley, but the real problem is the cars that are coming.
Mayor Terry Goddard was elected by a reform movement that expected he would lead the battle against unrestricted growth. Instead, Goddard has added 60 square miles of leapfrog sprawl through annexations increasing the size of Phoenix by 17 percent. The Valley cities have bought huge farms in rural Arizona so that water can be shipped across the state for the millions of new residents we hope to lure to the Valley.
The subliminal message here is that somehow we can accommodate all of this growth if we just have ValTrans.
ValTrans is an $8.4 billion Band-Aid.
The mayor and council have never stood up to the very real problems of growth. The mayor and council have never said no to further development. Instead, Terry Goddard wants us to spend $8.4 billion. Terry Goddard wants to spend more money on ValTrans than was spent on the Central Arizona Project and the new freeways combined.
All we have to do to please Monsieur Goddard is to spend the next thirty years tearing up Valley neighborhoods with construction. And let's dump 1,500 buses--think of them as wounded elephants--onto Valley streets that are not wide enough to accommodate them and regular traffic.
Who is this big-spending, pro-growth visionary one ought to ask. Why, he's the doofus who thinks teen-agers ought to date on buses.
But don't think Terry Goddard is all alone on this one. True, his ideas on courting mark him as a clear eccentric, but he's just the wackiest member of the family of social engineers who believe mass transit will work in Phoenix. These people are easy to spot. They're the ones who righteously believe that YOU should take the bus. And they fully intend to join you. Someday. Sometime in the future.
This newspaper should support mass transit for greater Phoenix. But it cannot.
I have never ridden a Phoenix city bus. And I don't intend to start. I hate buses.
EVEN WITH ALL that, there still are reasons voters should support the sales tax hike for a mass transit system. But neither support group has managed to get that message across.
In some ways, the pro-ValTrans campaign was built for failure. Take the original brochure published to explain the system. Its cover has a photo of Miami's heavy rail system, totally different than what is being planned here. Take its widely distributed maps that show mile- wide corridors for the light rail line, even though transit planners know where most of the line will actually run, within 100 feet. The result: instant and often unnecessary panic by homeowners or, as some would say, a mile-wide corridor of angst. The regional transit authority did do some public education. Miller boasts of more than 400 public meetings throughout the Valley. It also paid to bring a light rail car and station to the Valley that's being towed from shopping center to shopping center. (Worth of the transit authority says there was no effort to curry favor with APS when the contract for managing and publicizing the car went to BJ Communications, run by Barbara DeMichele, wife of the utility's president.) But the transit authority is prohibited by law from actually promoting a pro- ValTrans vote. So that task fell to RSET--Residents for Safe and Efficient Transportation. It's an independent campaign committee funded largely by donations from business interests. Some effort was made to coordinate: The mayors who serve on the transit board were brought aboard the RSET advisory committee. And one of their first acts was to decide the campaign needed not one consultant but three.
Impact Communications, run by Bill Meek, is supposed to provide overall direction. Ben Goddard's First Tuesday firm is in charge of the media campaign. Roots Development, run by Rick DeGraw, was brought in to operate the headquarters on North Central Avenue and handle the get-out-the-vote effort.
The problem is that all three firms consider themselves experts in all areas. And they've proved in the past that working together can be disastrous. For instance, all three wanted to control last year's campaign against the English-only measure on the ballot. The campaign committee arranged a shotgun marriage of Roots and Impact, charging them with defeating the issue. They didn't.
Meek hasn't been a stunning success as the campaign coordinator. Insiders say although his firm was the first one hired--and was supposed to contact and educate the business community--fund-raisers were shocked to find major employers like Motorola and Intel were ignorant of the ValTrans program. That problem resulted in the original $1.4 million campaign budget being pared to $1.2 million; Meek says the cash flow has put the campaign at least a week behind, though he hopes to top the scaled-back goal.
That funding shortage created other problems. Three weeks ago, Meek attempted to slash funds for the telephone banks and the direct-mail campaign, both of which just happen to be operated by the other two consulting firms. But Meek was rebuffed when the other consultants showed that with the race this close and time running short, the only way to a victory may be to find the supporters and get them out on election day. (That was the technique used successfully in last year's Phoenix bond election: When you're asking voters to let you spend lots of money but only have a small campaign budget, don't create enemies by making waves. You just get your friends to the polls.)
Meek also did not work well with the mayors who were the out-front people in the campaign. It was finally this problem that resulted in Hamel being brought in, though, at least on paper, Meek is still in charge.
But the pro-ValTrans effort still hasn't caught fire. Mesa Mayor Peggy Rubach, a ValTrans supporter and member of the RPTA board, says the focus has been all wrong. "Our campaign has been run on an intellectual level," Rubach says. That campaign has consisted of speeches about growth, flip charts and TV ads showing cars disappearing from highways as if by magic. The opponents have instead gone for the jugular, with their first TV ad showing people playing with Monopoly money and screams about government spending billions on the system. With time running out, Rubach says, "Maybe it should be run more on a gut level."
A CAMPAIGN FOR ValTrans--and against the naysayers--should not be hard. As loose as the proponents are with the facts, the opponents have been at least as reckless. And, where they have no facts, they rely on unprovable theories and general government-bashing statements.
Chasse has taken the reins of the anti-ValTrans movement. He says he's leading the charge just because it's the right thing to do. "It's my nature that, once I believe in a project, to expound on it," he says. Of course, Chasse has benefited from his self-anointment as protector of the purse. It's an exposure he lacked two years ago when he ran a close third in the five-way race for the District 6 seat on the Phoenix City Council. The fact that Nadolski, who ultimately won the seat, supports ValTrans has nothing to do with his opposition, he contends. And, at least for the time being, he says he's not considering another run for the council.
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.
Opponents also never mention how families could save money if a transit system is built. Goddard says a motorist who uses a vehicle only for pleasure instead of for commuting can save up to $200 per year on auto insurance. And it doesn't stop there. In speeches throughout Phoenix, Goddard appeals to parents whose children are just about reaching the age where "Can I borrow the car?" replaces "Can you drive me somewhere?" He does some quick calculations about the cost of having a teen-age driver in the house, much of that a direct result of the whopping bill that will come from the insurance company. "Mass transit is an alternative to a teen-age driver in the house," Goddard says, figuring that a parent who can save up to $1,000 a year for two years by telling the teen to take the train is recouping much of the investment in ValTrans.
Opponents also hammer on the issue of how mass transit has not lived up to expectations elsewhere. And there are plenty of examples of that. But Chasse's comparisons sometimes are invalid.
One of Chasse's favorite targets is Miami, with its single-line heavy rail system. Everyone agrees no one rides the system. But Chasse is jumping to conclusions when he says this proves rail doesn't work.
"The placement of the line was a political decision," according to Bill Dobson, aide to Dade County Supervisor Charles Dusseau, who chairs the county's transportation committee. "The line doesn't go where people want it to go."
The opponents also ignore places where the system does work. In Vancouver, despite the noise complaints, people do ride the light rail system. Paul Barlow, manager of financial services for BC Transit, says fares already account for more than 50 percent of operating expenses on the 3-year-old system. The fares, though, are higher than anticipated here: Riding end-to-end on the 13-mile system costs $1.75 each way during rush hour.
The system is also fast and convenient. Barlow says the elevated lines and automated cars mean "we can run trains every 90 seconds."
(Vancouver officials opted to pay construction costs through a method other than sales taxes. Motorists pay 3 cents a liter--about 11 cents a gallon--in gasoline taxes to support the system. All residents within the service area pay a $1.60-a-month surcharge on their power bills. And businesses pitch in, too, with a special property tax levy.)
Finally, Vancouver has seen what the future may hold for the Valley, particularly if there's another energy crunch like the mid-Seventies. Gasoline prices are 45 cents a liter--in excess of $1.70 a gallon--which makes taking the train a more economical alternative. On top of that, all-day parking in downtown Vancouver is scarce.
In many ways, the arguments of Chasse and others are the same kind of overly simplistic, paranoid, anti- government claims that are reminiscent of former Governor Evan Mecham and his supporters. (Is it any wonder that Mecham opposes ValTrans?) "What governmental project that you know has ever come in on cost?" Chasse complains.
That hasn't stopped Chasse and other ValTrans opponents like state Senator Pete Corpstein from being the premier drum-beaters for more freeways, cost overruns and all.
The opponents have used that anti-government theme very successfully with only limited resources. The financial disclosure reports filed this week show VAST raised only $10,431. The anti-ValTrans campaign's largest contributions came from a trio of $1,000 checks, one from liquor wholesaler Kemper Marley. Actually, the major benefactors of the effort have been Valley TV stations who have so far donated nearly $24,000 worth of free advertising time to the cash-poor campaign. Chasse says he tried to get large contributions from business owners but found no takers.
One prominent Valley businessman told New Times that he thinks ValTrans is a bad idea and would be more than happy to kick in some funds. But he points out that his bank is a major ValTrans supporter. Does he think the bank would screw up his credit rating if he came out publicly against Proposition 300? "I don't know, but I'm not taking any chances."
There are some moderate voices in opposition, though often for different reasons. Susan Bitter Smith, a member of the Scottsdale City Council, says voters should reject the plan as being too expensive and too grand. She also doesn't like having a transit board composed of Valley mayors, particularly with a weighted voting system that allows Phoenix and any one other community--even El Mirage--to outvote the rest of the board on decisions of where the rail lines will go.
But her calls for voters to reject this plan and demand one on a smaller scale have a touch of irony: One of her complaints is that the Scottsdale portion of the rail system won't be built until well into the next century, while other communities will have service earlier. "That puts Scottsdale, quite frankly, at a very serious economic disadvantage," she complains. "We sit there and pay for it, but we're not able to access it."
Bitter Smith thinks if ValTrans fails, the Arizona State Legislature could be convinced to allow a scaled-back plan to be presented to the voters. And Corpstein, still believing more roads are the answer, says he would introduce legislation to levy a nickel-a-gallon fuel tax in Maricopa County "to take care of the freeways." And buses? He would allow the county supervisors to impose a sales tax of one tenth of a percent, which would raise about $20 million annually.
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.
Business benefits in other ways, too.
When state lawmakers last year were looking at ways to cut pollution, one option discussed was requiring businesses to reduce the number of miles traveled by employees. Among the opponents of these mandatory trip reductions was Arizona Public Service, which successfully lobbied for a voluntary program. Goddard says even this no-teeth approach hasn't been easy for business. "Employers who are trying to comply with that are having great difficulty," the mayor says, doing what they can by consolidating trips by workers and offering van pools. "Businesses couldn't comply with mandatory trip reductions."
Actually, APS could, but it would cost a lot more than they're spending now. And a lot more than the $50,000 they've contributed to the ValTrans campaign, which even Goddard has pushed as an alternative to those mandatory trip reductions. And APS and Salt River Project--which also has kicked in $50,000--both stand to gain from electricity sales to operate the automated train system.
STILL CONFUSED? Don't feel alone. Go to any party in the Valley, or visit with any fellow shopper at the market, and you'll find yourself deep in a discussion of ValTrans. Most likely the query will be, "What do you think of this thing?" Few seem adamantly for or against. Most admit to being torn and vacillating daily.
That kind of disarray should benefit the opponents, who know the conventional wisdom is that voters say no when they're confused.
Supporters, however, seem to be resting their hopes on the other side of that coin--confused voters also stay home, so apathy might be their ticket to success.
It seems like a helluva way to run a railroad.
Since they presumed they were on the side of the angels, they didn't take the opposition seriously for a long time.
Where they have no facts, opponents rely on unprovable theories and general government- bashing statements.
That L.A.'s freeway-only program has been an abysmal failure doesn't mean it can't work here, Chasse argues. Of course, he doesn't give transit the same break.
"Freeways are not free," Mayor Goddard stresses.
A campaign for ValTrans-- and against the naysayers--should not be hard.
One of the proponent's first acts was to decide the campaign needed not one consultant, but three.
If ValTrans comes in at the projected cost, it will be the exception, rather than the rule.
Worth does not consider it misleading to use train- station-to-station travel times in publicizing the benefits of ValTrans.
Misstating or misinterpreting information is one thing. Boldly lying is another.
Goddard's bubbling enthusiasm for the project, however, isn't matched by his command of the facts.
The howl-and-cry controversy over the amphitheatre couldn't have happened at a worst possible time for anyone who wanted voters' trust.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.