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Decade of public improvements almost wiped out

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Posted: Tuesday, March 30, 2010 11:00 pm

Ten years ago city voters approved a 4-cent sales tax increase for mass transit. Within the next few months, almost all of the public transit improvements made in Ahwatukee Foothills could be gone.

Before the March 2000 election during which voters approved Transit 2000, Ahwatukee Foothills had one bus route that ended near Warner Road and 48th Street.

In the ballot measure were two park-and-ride lots, express bus service to downtown Phoenix, expanded local bus service and a neighborhood circulator demonstration project to see how public transit could be delivered to Ahwatukee Foothills’ winding, narrow streets.

“It was a promise,” said Ray Duran, whose children grew up riding the neighborhood circulator bus.

Greta Rogers called it something else.

“I know there was talk of sweetening the pot for Ahwatukee to generate votes,” Rogers said.

Either way, Ahwatukee Foothills voters supported the proposition at the polls and shortly after passage improvement began, with bus routes extended west on Chandler Boulevard to Desert Foothills Parkway and additional service on 48th Street and the Warner-Elliot Loop.

In 2001 ALEX kicked off, providing free neighborhood circulator service along a 20-mile route. Transit planners had hoped for 8,000 to 12,000 passengers a month, but soon the buses were carrying 26,000 passengers a month.

In July 2003 the Pecos Park-and-Ride lot at 40th Street and Pecos Road was completed and RAPID service to downtown began. It was an instant hit with commuters, requiring additional buses be added to the morning and evening routes, carrying commuters downtown and home again at the end of the day.

With slowly declining sales tax revenues and increased expenses, local public transit began to shrink once again.

A second park-and-ride lot for Ahwatukee Foothills was never built, bus service on Chandler Boulevard was reduced, then stopped at Interstate 10 and service on 48th Street was cut.

If ALEX is eliminated to make up some of the $9 million state lawmakers took away two weeks ago to balance the state budget, public transit will be reduced to the Monday through Friday RAPID service to downtown and the Route 56 bus on 48th Street. That would place public transit only slightly ahead of where it was a decade ago when voters went to the polls.

“I think it’s the economic reality,” said John McComish, who 10 years ago supported the Transit 2000 proposition and was on the committee that helped name ALEX.

“I understand what the city of Phoenix is faced with and that they have to make some very serious decisions,” said McComish, now a three-term GOP state representative and majority leader in the House.

Two weeks ago McComish and state lawmakers took back Local Assistant Transit Funds from Phoenix and other municipalities, to help balance the state’s budget, which prompted the crisis.

“We knew there was going to be ramifications, because the money wasn’t being wasted. But we had to balance what we were doing,” McComish said. “There are no good answers.”

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