Longform

Off the Track

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In fact, she never had real cause for concern because a more specific map shows planners intend to put the rail line right on 44th Street. But that map isn't generally available to the public. It is tucked inside the full regional public transportation plan, which can be bought at the authority's downtown Phoenix office for $35.

Miller contends it would be misleading to show the public the 44th Street plan because he doesn't know exactly where the route will be. "It could be 100 feet either way," he says, without acknowledging that 100 feet from any point on 44th Street is quite a bit different from a half mile on either side.

Do the maps buy needless enemies?
"We may have," Miller concedes. But he believes folks are willing to vote for something even if they don't have a specific location.

He cites last year's Phoenix bond election, which included funding for a new library to be built somewhere in the deck park area being constructed over the Papago Freeway between Third Avenue and Third Street. "Nobody said how high it was going to be and where it was going to be," he says. "But they approved it anyway."

Miller won't acknowledge a difference between erecting a single building in an area already torn up for a freeway and constructing a continuous concrete guideway for the trains, complete with stations every mile or so that are 80 feet wide and up to 300 feet long. Miller pooh-poohs suggestions that transit officials have hidden the real maps because they fear people living under or near the routes will vote no in March. "You assume that these people are going to be enemies," he says. "I don't."

To make his point, he brags that some neighborhoods are fighting to get ValTrans. For example, he says, there is the fight over whether a line of the rail system will serve the Sunnyslope area of north central Phoenix or the Paradise Valley section of northeast Phoenix. He points out that the North Mountain Village Planning Committee wants a rail line running up Seventh Street and Cave Creek Road to give access to the Sunnyslope area, while the Paradise Valley Village Planning Committee favors an alignment in its neighborhood following the proposed Squaw Peak Parkway northeast from 16th Street to 34th Street.

But Mike Milillo, who chairs the Paradise Valley committee, says the fight isn't over getting a train line to serve a neighborhood but to eliminate it. Nobody actually wants to live next to the trains, he stresses. "People want to know where it's going to be," he explains. "They don't want more houses taken for mass transit."

Milillo says the Squaw Peak routing makes sense because the state already is taking land and disrupting neighborhoods for the parkway. More important to some homeowners, Milillo continues, is that the rail system might help them convince the city to condemn their homes and get them away from the parkway.

Plans call for the Squaw Peak Parkway to run north from the Phoenix Mountain Preserve along a 34th Street alignment. Milillo says this will create a strip of single-family homes between 32nd Street--already a major roadway--and the parkway. If there is a rail system, however, he says the city might be willing to buy these homes for park-and-ride lots and other commercial development.

Yet transit director Miller says people really want to be adjacent to the rail lines and, particularly, the stations. He points to Atlanta, where large-scale commercial and high-density residential development sprung up around train stations. But, even business leaders have made it clear they want to be near the rail system, not sitting directly underneath it.

THE PROOF OF THE PUDDING is the strange story of Central Avenue.
Much of the reason for building the rail system is to get workers from the rest of the Valley to offices located along the four-mile high-rise stretch of Central Avenue running from downtown to Camelback Road. Transit officials admit this leg is essential to convince people to leave their cars at home and get to work by rapid transit.

Development along the city's main street has been somewhat schizophrenic. The city wants the high-rise businesses, yet says it wants to protect the long-established neighborhoods that lie just behind all this development.

The city council also wants to make Central Avenue something of a showplace, particularly as it is the backdrop for the nationally televised Fiesta Bowl parade. The first step was supposed to be the just-completed street-widening project, though that didn't exactly turn out the way it was planned. There's also an expensive beautification of Central in the works--with $8 million coming from the property owners bordering the street.

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Howard Fischer