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JULY Friday Morning Breakfast

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, July 31, 2019


All Aboard!

The future of public transit in the Valley drives July FMB panel

An election to determine the future of light rail in the Valley looms on the horizon.


 A yes vote on Prop. 105 is a vote in favor of amending the City of Phoenix charter to end construction of light rail extensions and direct funds to other transportation improvements in Phoenix.


A not vote on Prop. 105 is a vote against amending the city charter, leaving funds allocated to light rail expansion.


Since the passages of Prop. 400 in 2004 and Prop. 104 in 2015, the Valley's public transportation system has evolved to meet the demands of booming population growth and economic development. As a result, new development has energized both the region and the debate over what the future holds for this mode of public transit.


“The topic of public transportation is near and dear to my heart,” said Scott Smith, CEO of Valley Metro and moderator for July’s Valley Partnership Friday Morning Breakfast. “I lived through it during my development days, as an elected official and now as a CEO.”

As the light rail celebrates its 10th year of operation, business, transportation and real estate leaders are now planning out where it will head next. The August 27 election will affect the future of real estate, development and investments.


Joining Scott were panelists John Giles, Mayor, City of Mesa; Shannon Scutari, President, Scutari & Co., LLC.; and Eric Anderson, Executive Director, Maricopa Association of Governments. Smith is also the former mayor of Mesa.


“Light rail helped revitalize Mesa’s urban core,” Scott said. “A $500 million investment translated into connectivity and thousands of jobs. Those were federal dollars that would have some elsewhere.”


The sticking point is light rail construction that could affect businesses along the line. Grass roots organizations and small business groups have echoed their concerns.  Giles said those were the same concerns of businesses in downtown Mesa when light rail construction began.


“Small business owners thought this was their death sentence,” Giles recalled. “As we well know now, the net loss of business was zero. Valley Metro and the city worked very hard to accommodate folks. They helped nurture their livelihood during construction. We doubled down on all those efforts.


“The Valley has evolved and matured, as has Mesa. I have never been more happy being wrong in this situation,” Giles said.

Scutari touched on the impact the light rail has had on three communities: Phoenix, Mesa and Tempe.

“Light rail is good for generations of people in the Valley,” she said. “You want communities that are walkable, bikeable, connected. Something for all generations.”


On the other side, Smith said, there are those who “the streets suck” and “fix the potholes.”


But if wasn’t for the Valley’s transportation system and its myriad freeways, where would it be today?


“A couple of days ago I did a podcast for AZCentral,” Anderson said. “Part of what came out was that in the 70s the Republic came out against freeways. It’s more than just getting from point A to point B. Long-term, it’s pretty important where we go. Who knows, maybe commuter rail could be the next evolution.”


The benefits of light rail’s first decade are palpable, the panelists agreed.


“Downtown Phoenix has a vibrant 24/7 population,” Anderson said. “That didn’t happen overnight. Chase Field. The science museum. Arizona State University. The light rail happened to downtown.”


In Mesa, Giles said, affordable housing projects along the light rail have been developed.


“Light rail changes the dynamic of a community,” Smith said. “That shows you just how fragile transportation is.”



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