Some quick background: In 2015, Phoenix voters approved a whopping $31 billion in funding to invest in transportation infrastructure, ranging from bike lanes to frequency bus routes, as part of a plan called Transportation 2050. Included in that was funding for an additional 42 miles of light rail track and stations, including a line to west Phoenix. The idea was to extend the existing light rail line on Camelback Road west past Grand Canyon University at North 35th Avenue.
But the theoretical west Phoenix route was effectively killed in 2019 after the Phoenix City Council voted to use an estimated $153 million that was originally intended for light rail development for road projects instead, according to the Arizona Republic. In a 5-3 vote, the council approved a citizen petition that sought to stop the west Phoenix line after business owners in west Phoenix objected to the project.
Now, light rail advocates are hopeful that west Phoenix might actually get the route that was promised. The Phoenix City Council is stacked with light-rail supporters after the March 2021 election. And during an August 27 meeting, the Citizens Transportation Commission — a 15-member body that oversees the implementation of Transportation 2050 — unanimously voted to recommend that the Phoenix City Council study mass transit options for west Phoenix, including light rail, for west Phoenix.
Councilmember Betty Guardado, whose district covers parts of west Phoenix, such as Maryvale, told New Times that there is significant interest on the council in rebooting the planning process for a west Phoenix line.
"The council looks very different today than what it did in the spring of 2019," she said. "Other colleagues are excited to support this."
Guardado added that the commission's recommendation to revisit light rail in west Phoenix will be brought to the council's transportation, infrastructure, and innovation subcommittee "soon." Guardado's chief of staff, Andrew Wunder, clarified that the council member plans to bring the recommendation to the committee this Wednesday.
Councilmember Debra Stark, who chairs the transportation subcommittee and has historically been a proponent of light rail, did not respond to a request for comment regarding the issue.
For other light rail supporters, the Citizens Transportation Commission vote and the new power balance on the city council are encouraging.
"The Phoenix City Council failed to uphold citizens’ vote," said Diane Brown, executive director of the Arizona Public Interest Research Group, which has lobbied for light rail in the past. "Fortunately, they are now moving in a direction that residents have stated they want."
Ryan Boyd, a spokesperson for Urban Phoenix Project, an urbanist advocacy group, expressed concern that the project could get bogged down in the bureaucratic muck. "This is a time to put action behind this instead of just putting it into a bureaucratic rabbit hole and hope that it gets out in the next century," he said.
Boyd added, "It's something that really should have never been cut in the first place. This is long overdue."