Longform

Off the Track

Page 4 of 4

Officially, this isn't a guarantee as the Tempe City Council has yet to adopt this recommendation. And councilmembers will not vote until engineering studies are done, something that won't be done unless--and until--voters approve the transit system. But the action by the committee pretty much assures that residential neighborhoods won't be affected. It also protects Mill Avenue, which just underwent its own $2.9 million beautification project.

The same process took place in Mesa, where, last fall, that community's transportation committee decided it wants the line from Tempe continued east along Apache Trail and Main Street. The Mesa City Council already has voted to approve this recommendation. And in Glendale, a citizens' committee has recommended the rail line go along Glendale Avenue instead of Bethany Home Road. Although these decisions can be found in the $35 transportation plan, they don't show up in the mile-wide corridor map being given free to voters.

The Phoenix City Council, however, has yet to set up a transportation committee to make route recommendations. And any decisions clearly won't happen before the March 28 vote. City Hall officials don't seem embarrassed that they're lagging so far behind their neighbors--even though the routes through Phoenix are the heart of the mass transit system. The hugeness of the system in Phoenix, in fact, is being used as the excuse. Goddard aide Bartak says the committee hasn't been formed because "we have so many more miles to the system [than the other cities] and go through so many more neighborhoods."

Even the mayor himself doesn't see a problem.
"We're not going to be building some of these lines for fifteen or twenty years," Goddard says. "It would be foolish to try to pick a specific route now."

Neither Goddard nor his aide is concerned things are so up in the air. Like Miller, they think voters should be willing to go to the polls and approve a system without knowing specifically where it will go.

"Yes, people want to know the answers," Bartak says. "But it's similar to the way the freeways were sited" before the successful 1985 bond election. "They drew wide lines on maps. Then the specific alignments were made much farther down the road. Sure, some said, `Hell, no,' but others said, `It will drive up the value of my property.'"

Despite the optimism of Goddard and Bartak, not all the supporters of the transit system see the lack of information as harmless. Mark DeMichele, president of Arizona Public Service, says he understands why more specific plans haven't been presented to the public. But he thinks it might hurt the cause.

"More information needs to be gotten out," DeMichele says, not just about specific routes but exactly what buffer zones are planned between the rail line and residential neighborhoods. "People need to have some assurance that their homes are not going to be impacted."

Miller says that even though there isn't an official citizens' committee in Phoenix yet, his staff has worked with residents of various villages. That dispute over whether the line in northeast Phoenix will go up Cave Creek Road or along the Squaw Peak Parkway shows that the plan is, indeed, getting more specific, he stresses. But he says the dispute between those two village committees explains why it was impossible to choose one option or the other. And since both possibilities carry the same weight right now, it's accurate that the public map shows a mile-wide strip here, he adds.

Miller's professed deference for village plans is missing elsewhere in Phoenix.

For instance, the Camelback East Village Committee wants the rail line to run east of 24th Street along largely commercial Thomas Road. But transit planners acknowledge in their $35 book that instead they're pushing to run the train along Indian School Road and the canal bank across the street from the single-family homes in the politically active Arcadia neighborhood.

That decision, like all the others about the rail line, will come--eventually. But not before the March 28 vote--an election counting on the Valley's willingness to write a multibillion-dollar check based on inch-wide lines on a map.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Howard Fischer