Longform

Trainplotting

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According to data provided by the institute, forum attendees felt the Valley needed to move forward on transit to improve air quality, relieve congestion and help those who cannot afford cars get to work.

The institute, according to its report, also found that, in order of preference, people favored light rail, beefed-up bus service and commuter trains as means to achieving those ends. In Phoenix, the survey results were passed to a committee made up of 21 citizens, along with Phoenix councilwoman and transit booster Peggy Bilsten.

That committee was chaired by Manning.
On April 29, Manning presented the committee's recommendations to the Phoenix City Council, which approved them unanimously after including provisions to provide free bus service to seniors, the disabled and the handicapped.

The plan says nothing about where rail, or any other transit assets, for that matter, might go--a big change from the days of ValTrans, when planners spelled out the exact routes for the massive elevated-rail system, which would have slashed through neighborhoods.

Pat Cantelme, a captain in the Phoenix Fire Department and head of the firefighters' union who sat in the steering committee with Manning and Bilsten, says that the closest the committee came to making recommendations about where rail or any other transit assets should go was to suggest "corridors."

"We said, instead of it becoming political either today or down the road, it should follow the heaviest traffic corridors," Cantelme says. "For the most part, that's where the freeways are now."

There is one corridor, however, that wouldn't jump out at anyone, at least not based on traffic counts: downtown Phoenix (where there are big sports venues, big hotels, convention facilities) to downtown Tempe (one of the only areas of the Valley where visitors might go to mill around).

Tourism is a huge industry in Arizona, and that's why this corridor is considered important.

Currently, the two areas are separated by the Salt River, the Tempe Buttes and Sky Harbor International Airport. They are connected by arterial streets, the Red Mountain Freeway, I-10, but perhaps most directly by Union Pacific Railroad tracks. City officials have said they'd be interested in developing the rail link with the aid of federal matching funds.

The cost of installing electrified light-rail lines along this 10-mile corridor has been pegged at $260 million. Installing diesel-powered commuter trains--a less-attractive option because of their limited flexibility--along existing tracks has been estimated to cost $50 million.

"If that money comes in, then that would be the first link," Cantelme says. "If it doesn't, then we would wait, because that's not really a high-traffic corridor."

If that's the case, it could take a while. Ken Driggs, executive director of the Regional Public Transportation Authority, says $130 million in federal matching funds is still well down the road.

"We're something like 80th in line [for the money]," he says.
Twenty-eight floors below Valerie Manning's office, shunted off into a corner of the cavernous concourse level of the Bank One Building, lie the offices of the Goldwater Institute.

It is not easy to find, sandwiched among the gift shops and cafeterias. Yet there it is, clinging like a barnacle to an ocean liner.

This is ground zero against the campaign being orchestrated 27 floors up.
Given the institute's antitax, strongly Libertarian bent, it should come as no surprise that it has come out strongly against the transit initiatives. Fiscally, the institute's policies are very much in line with those of the governor, strongly endorsing charter schools and, in transportation, such pay-as-you-go proposals as toll roads.

John Semmens is the institute's resident transportation expert. Disheveled and bookish, Semmens, a senior planner for ADOT who works as a political consultant on the side, espouses views that sound downright curmudgeonly next to Manning's gleaming vision of a Valley bound together by buses and rail.

Publicly, at least, ADOT tries to distance itself from the outspoken planner.

"It should be clear that Mr. Semmens is exercising his right to speak as an individual--not as a member of ADOT," explains ADOT spokesman Bill Rawson. "Obviously, not everyone's real happy with the situation."

Semmens has penned reams of reports and briefs with titles like Public Transit: A Bad Product at a Bad Price; Public Transit: A Failure Everywhere; and Public Transit: A Financial Disaster.

In addition to congestion pricing, Semmens' suggestions for dealing with traffic and pollution include:

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Howard Stansfield