Longform

Trainplotting

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Rimsza, who declined to be interviewed for this story, added that past transit initiatives had failed because people felt they were being rammed down their throats by "a bunch of downtown types and business leaders."

That may be. But there is ample evidence that the most recent initiative is also being pushed by those very people.

Take Jerry Colangelo, who has made no secret of his support for the tax, or for his desire to one day see trains packed with Suns and Diamondbacks fans coasting into downtown Phoenix.

Or take the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and its president, Valerie Manning, who heads pro-tax Keep Phoenix Moving, a powerful coalition of business leaders.

Unlike Rimsza, Manning doesn't try to deny that Colangelo and his pals support the tax. But, she adds, that doesn't necessarily mean it's bad for Phoenix.

"Does the fact that he [Colangelo] is a businessman automatically mean he can't also have some sort of a civic vision?" Manning asks.

The legions of county residents still smarting over the tax to build Bank One Ballpark would undoubtedly cry, "Yes!"

The year is 1945. World War II has just ended, America's love affair with the car is about to begin, and the streets of Phoenix (population: 65,000) course with electric trolleys, descendants of horse-drawn versions that made their debut in the late 1800s.

Phoenix extends no farther than Indian School Road in the north. Beyond lie farms and citrus fields. To the east, Scottsdale is little more than winter pasture for sheep and cattle. And Tempe is a smattering of university buildings and homes.

As air conditioning tames the desert heat, the Valley quickly begins to lose its pastoral feel.

By 1965, downtown Phoenix starts to wane as new commercial centers spring up around the Valley, all made possible by the automobile.

By 1985, air pollution and traffic congestion are serious problems. County voters pass the first freeway tax.

Today, from the top of Squaw Peak, the Valley reveals itself as a loosely woven tapestry of neighborhoods, strip malls and golf courses flung as far and as wide as the eye can see, which, unfortunately, is not very far on some days, thanks to the dense, amber haze encircling the Valley like a ring of soap scum in a bathtub.

Now fast-forward to the year 2025.
Seas of pink-roofed residential developments, strip malls and Circle Ks stretch westward to the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. In the east, Queen Creek High is a 5A school.

Development in north Phoenix, which once stopped in the vicinity of the Central Arizona Project canal, has overtaken Carefree. The once-sleepy burg of New River has mushroomed into a master-planned Del Webb community the size of Flagstaff.

The strip of Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson is now one continuous city--like the corridor connecting Miami to Fort Lauderdale or Philadelphia to New York City.

The population of the entire region has doubled since the turn of the century. So has the number of cars--to four million.

Despite the fevered pace of road construction and the implementation of "clean" fuels, and despite increasingly strident government pleas to car-pool, telecommute, walk or ride a bike, the Valley continues to writhe beneath a cloud of pollution and particulates. Its roads remain choked with cars.

Now, imagine this scene with a few not-so-slight modifications.
The Black Canyon Freeway is still paralyzed, but with one key difference: A train running along tracks installed in what was once a traffic lane whooshes past the gridlock.

Motorists cast envious glances at passengers who read the morning paper or peck away on laptop computers while sipping coffee. Once downtown, express buses speed the unharried commuters off to their jobs. Other passengers transfer to commuter trains that will take them to points west or east.

Imagine this scene repeated on each major traffic corridor in the Valley: along I-10, the Superstition Freeway, the Squaw Peak Parkway, the Red Mountain Freeway, Central Avenue, Grand Avenue. At Sky Harbor Airport, trains glide up to a platform. Instead of renting cars when they arrive in the Valley, visitors now have the choice of hopping a train to downtown Phoenix, Mill Avenue in Tempe, Main Street in Mesa, the Camelback Corridor, Scottsdale Road, Sun City.

And all over the Valley, ubiquitous and clean-burning buses shuttle passengers to and from their neighborhoods to rail stations.

Or, picture this: Instead of trains, there are only more roads. Only those roads aren't "free," like they are today. Instead of paying highway taxes at the gas pump, drivers pay "congestion prices" to private road consortiums--the higher the traffic and the demand, the higher the price--for the privilege of driving. Your bill is calculated by a computer that scans your mileage via a chip in your vehicle. And like the freeways, the few remaining buses are privately owned and operated.

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Howard Stansfield