Transportation plan funds freeway
This is the first in a five-part series on how Proposition 400 will impact the Ahwatukee Foothills community if it is passed in the Nov. 2 election.
by Doug Murphy Staff Writer
In 1985, voters in Maricopa County approved a half-cent sales tax to fund Valley freeways.
In November, county voters will be asked to extend that sales tax for another 20 years.
But instead of all the money going into freeway construction, the new multi-module plan that was developed over two years by a committee of elected officials and business leaders includes funding for light rail, mass transit, street improvements as well as 344 lane miles of new or improved freeways.
For Ahwatukee Foothills residents, a key element of the plan is the 23-mile long South Mountain Loop 202 Freeway, extending from Interstate 10 in Ahwatukee Foothills west around South Mountain to I-10 in the Laveen area.
A study is currently under way to determine a route for the freeway, and no final decision has been made for its location, but passage of Proposition 400 would provide the county's share for the $1.3 billion four-lane freeway.
Traffic engineers say the South Mountain leg of Loop 202 is needed to complete the freeway's ring around the Valley, and that by 2025 it will carry an estimated 170,000 vehicles a day, about the same as is carried by I-10 at Warner Road today.
Without the Loop 202, much of that traffic would be forced to use I-10, creating virtual gridlock.
"It will be very difficult for people to move from Ahwatukee Foothills to downtown," without the Loop 202 diverting traffic off I-10, said David Martin, president of the Arizona chapter of the Associated General Contractors.
Martin, who lives in Ahwatukee Foothills, is also the treasurer of the Yes on 400 committee promoting the plan that he says offers specific solutions to specific Valley transportation problems:
* Dial-A-Ride for areas with large numbers of seniors;
* Freeways in the West Valley where population growth is expected to explode;
* Light rail along the Central Avenue corridor of Phoenix where density is high; and
* Improved streets to get traffic to and from existing freeways that will all be widened.
If voters reject Proposition 400, Martin said Valley residents will lose a vital opportunity.
"What we risk is a truly regional opportunity to solve the region's transportation problems based upon specific needs," he explained.
It also means that funding for new highway construction will be drastically reduced.
Under Proposition 400, the estimated $16.5 billion will be split with 55 percent or about $9.5 billion going to highway construction, 31 percent or $5 billion to mass transit including light rail construction, and 7 percent or $1.1 billion for street improvements, with the rest of the money spent on miscellaneous projects.
The sales tax is expected to raise about $9 billion over 20 years. State and federal transportation funds will provide the balance of the expected $16.5 billion to be raised.
Opponents are adamant that all the funding should go to freeways, similar to the 1985 sales tax proposal where 95 percent of the money went to freeway development and construction.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Gilbert) opposes the $2.3 billion that would be spent on light rail that he says should go toward more freeways.
"We're diverting money away from the freeways to the light rail system," he said.
What he would like to see is Proposition 400 defeated so that lawmakers like himself could introduce new legislation that addresses the transportation needs of the Valley without wasting money on light rail, which he doesn't believe will do anything to solve the congestion problem.
"Light rail will do nothing to solve the congestion problems in the Valley," Biggs said.
But if voters defeat the proposition Biggs said he believes lawmakers can pass a new and improved plan in time for a May 2005 election.
Martin maintains that light rail along with public transportation is important since the senior population of the Valley will triple in the next 25 years.
"That's why we need to address public transportation, and we need to be thinking about those folks," Martin said.
In 1985, the entire Loop 202 was part of the 233 miles of freeways that was envisioned when voters passed the original half-cent sales tax for new freeway construction. But declines in the economy overall and sales tax revenue drops resulted in cutbacks, with the South Mountain portion of the Loop 202 left without funding and 76 miles of proposed freeways were eliminated.
The reporter can be reached at (480) 898-7914 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.