Ahwatukee Foothills News
By Joe Debbins
Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) admits
that the proposed South Mountain Freeway (SMF) will not significantly
reduce traffic on Interstate 10 (see the "ADOT Advisory, Fall/Winter
Actually, I-10 is quite capable of handling local
commercial and interstate trucking traffic today, just go out there
between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., all east/west lanes are moving quite nicely,
with most of it destined for downtown Phoenix or points north.
The real problem is with the morning and evening
commuter traffic that's when things get ugly, and even eliminating all
of the interstate/bypass truck traffic with the proposed SMF (either on
Gila River Indian Community land or Pecos Road) does little to change the
I-10 rush-hour volume. With additional housing being built in Maricopa/Sun
Lakes, it will only get worse because of the commuters, not because of
commercial trucking between Tucson and California. While the SMF will
perhaps balance some of the Valley traffic, it does little to solve the
real problem: moving people to and from work efficiently on a daily basis.
Phoenix traffic and population growth projections are
based on one flawed assumption: cheap oil. This will change dramatically
within the next 10 years [Hurricanes] Katrina and Rita were just
warning shots. Very expensive fuel (more than $15 a gallon) will be a
reality in our lifetimes, significantly reducing traffic, including the
trucks that maintain our food supply to the Valley. (Google on "Peak
Oil.") Our national leadership is oblivious to this reality, and we
must begin to address it locally. Now is the time to reduce our transport
dependency on oil, while we can afford to build the alternatives,
particularly ones that actually solve problems, not more freeways.
Moving people from the southern East Valley to
downtown and points north is simply best accomplished with regional light
rail. This is the Right Build. Rail offers clean and quiet transport with
a minimal environmental footprint. Rail creates permanent jobs. Commuter
rail improves neighborhoods and increases property values, and gives our
citizens an alternative to the rush-hour nightmare. Light rail will make
those neighborhoods that have it very attractive to permanent,
professional working residents and continue the revitalization of
central/downtown Phoenix. Even those who do not use rail and continue to
drive will benefit, as thousands will choose rail instead of driving to
and from work.
Commuter rail is where we should spend the bulk of our
transportation money going forward, it can be matched by federal dollars,
and with a levy on "planned community builders," to seriously
showcase Phoenix as a progressive forward-moving city in the European
model, and not a city stuck in the 20th century continuing to allow
unchecked growth dependent on the internal combustion engine. We are now
at a crossroads: Do we want to be Los Angeles (bad) or Paris (good) when
we grow up?
I am a biomedical scientist, the type of person
Phoenix is trying to recruit and retain to build Arizona Bioscience. But
high housing costs coupled with poor public transportation and widespread
pollution makes it frankly intimidating to incoming professionals in the
technical/professional fields, particularly those with young children. Who
wants to move to Los Angeles II? How does Phoenix expect to revitalize
downtown with Biosciences/TGEN/UA medical school without a way to get
professionals downtown easily? They won't come, or, they will try it for a
while then leave after being frustrated with endless hours driving.
The solutions don't require new technologies; they
simply require leadership, and a willingness to step outside the
established traditions. Now is the time to lead, with solutions that solve
problems and prepare us for the future. Thanks to "Peak Oil," we
are heading back to a time when there are fewer cars and a lot more buses
and trains. Let's be ready and set an example to the rest of the country
as to what should be done, and thus must be done.
Joe Debbins, Ph.D., is a
professional electrical engineer who works as a staff scientist at St.
Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center. He moved to Ahwatukee Foothills in