Route Construction Set To Begin This Fall
Last month’s special election on Prop 105 ended with a 62% majority in favor of continuing light rail development. Valley Metro officials are thrilled with the outcome of the vote and the city’s decision to progress forward with the transportation. Kate Gallego, the Mayor of Phoenix, tweeted out her appreciation for the residents and their record-breaking turn out for a mid-year election.
Light rail expansion is not stopping— not today, not tomorrow, not ever. We have and will continue to protect our rail because this is not about one route, this is about equity for our entire community.— Kate Gallego (@KateWGallego) August 28, 2019
As with an election of any sort, a number of people came away disappointed with the outcome of the polls. In this case, nearly 65,000 Phoenicians wished to halt the construction of the light rail extension into South Phoenix and other areas across the valley.
Both sides have good points. Light rail construction costs have risen to $1.35B which is significantly more than originally proposed in 2015. Development is scheduled to begin as early as this fall with City Consul advancing the South Mountain opening date from 2035 to 2023. This timeline will need to be maintained for the sake of the businesses along Central Avenue who are concerned about the impact the lengthy construction process will have on their establishments.
With regard to the budget, according to Valley Metro CEO Scott Smith, the development of the light rail will have no effect at all on other transportation services. “The T2050 Plan was a 35-year plan that included money for bus transportation, light rail, and streets. Everything was funded within the plan,” Smith said during an interview with KSTAR News. “Nothing’s being given up because of this proposition,” he added. “That’s some of the misinformation [being spread] in the election. That somehow it was either-or.”
The truth of the matter is the T2050 plan which was passed in 2015 has a $2.3B budget allocated to street improvements over the next 35 years. That includes initiatives such as street maintenance, installing enhanced traffic signals, and creating bike lanes to name a few. The specifics of the T2050 plan can be viewed here: https://www.phoenix.gov/t2050
Addressing the Elephant in the Room
Perhaps the largest, and most frightening consequence of light rail expansion is the potential threat of displacement to the native residents along the rail line, namely those in South Phoenix.
41% of this area’s residents are of Hispanic origin and just under 15% are African Americans. Local residents believe the area’s historic charm is in jeopardy to outside influences.
While there is no universally accepted definition of the term, one of the identifying characteristics of gentrification is a massive growth of home values to low-income areas. The result of such growth often forces native members of the community, typically minorities, who can no longer afford the rising costs of living.
Valley Metro officials state that their goal is never to displace anyone, but there are challenges that come with progress. If you have concerns about the metro rail and how it’s impacting you, this is the time to be proactive and not reactive. The earlier you address your concerns the better. Send your questions to the Valley Metro community outreach team at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (602) 523-6070. Additionally, you can attend one of the Fall community events and address your concerns there.
Why Light Rail Expansion Is Good For Businesses
Transformative projects such as these are never easy, however, building a connected transportation system has long-term advantages that far outweigh the challenges it presents during construction. Not only will it be easier to move around the city, but increased connectivity also brings the potential for new customers to visit businesses that were previously difficult to access.
Embracing the changes that come with expanding the light rail could be the path to growth for businesses along the new line. Ridership on Phoenix’s light rail system has steadily risen. The number of annual trips increased from 12.7 million in 2009 to 16.5 million in 2017, although ridership dropped 4.4 percent to 15.8 million last year.
Instead of fearing displacement, consider doubling down on ownership in these areas. By investing in your own neighborhoods, current South Phoenix residents can be the benefactor of the increases that traditionally follow new transportation initiatives.
For those who need assistance navigating the upcoming transitions, Valley Metro has independent consultants available to share their expertise in business planning, marketing planning and more. You are encouraged to stay in touch as Valley Metro is looking to establish a 2-way communication line with the residents and business owners that may be impacted by the new light rail system.
Jonathan Tease is a content connoisseur and storytelling expert. He is a South Mountain resident, and Brophy Prep Alumnus focused on bringing value to his community. He is the co-creator of the LxVE Collective and is a regular contributor to media outlets across the country.