Though 2019 was supposed to be a quiet year for election politics, the battle for light rail has made it anything but in Phoenix.
Last week two opposing views from Ahwatukee residents illustrated how the campaign for and against Proposition 105, the so-called “Building a Better Phoenix” prop, has heated up with Aug 27 election just weeks away.
Proposition 105 would stop all light-rail project expansion plans and not allocate funds for light rail or fixed rail line transit systems after Aug. 27.
It would redistribute revenue designated for light-rail extensions to other infrastructure projects, primarily street improvements.
City Councilman Sal DiCiccio, a proponent of the anti-light-rail measure, fired off a blistering tirade on social media after Scot Mussi, president of the Arizona Free Enterprise Club charged that “rampant cost overruns” had nearly doubled the total cost for the South Phoenix light rail spur to $1.35 billion – which he calculated at $245 million a mile.
“The scariest part for taxpayers is that they haven’t even broke ground on the project, so the price tag will likely go even higher before they are finished,” said Mussi, whose release followed several releases by Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego and other City Council members heralding the award of $100 million for the line by the federal government.
“$245 million per mile for light rail. Seriously, how can anyone support this waste?” DiCiccio said.
“They did not disclose to taxpayers that the projected cost to build the line has nearly doubled,” he added, calling the South Phoenix spur “one of the most expensive light rail extensions in the country.”
Mussi said, “Neither Phoenix or Valley Metro have explained how they are going to pay for this, or what happens when the cost goes even higher. Taxpayers have a right to know what roadway projects will be cancelled to fund this boondoggle.”
“This isn’t the first time Valley Metro has been forced to revise the projected cost for the South Phoenix extension. In November of 2015, Valley Metro estimated the capitol cost for the project to be no more than $530 million,” Mussi added, urging voters to “be wise” and “stop the bleeding before it is too late.”
Voicing its opposition to the proposition along with the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce is the Arizona Citizens for the Arts, which said “light rail will play an increasingly important role in the quality of life in our community by providing reliable, efficient and cost-effective transportation to diverse opportunities across the Valley including many of our vibrant arts and cultural offerings.”
Seconding that opinion is Bob Altizer, president/CEO of Ahwatukee-based MusicaNova Orchestra, who said the prop “would do severe — if not irreparable — harm to arts organizations in Phoenix, with shockwaves felt in adjoining cities.”
Calling the light rail and another proposition curbing city spending “unwise and shortsighted,” Altzier said:
“Phoenix is the fifth-largest city in the nation but didn’t even make the Top 20 in a recently published list of arts-vibrant large communities in the US.”
He was particularly concerned about Prop 106, saying it “will ensure we stay off that list”
“A 2017 study by Americans for the Arts reported, ‘Not-for-profit arts and culture organizations and their audiences in Phoenix contribute nearly $402 million in direct economic activity to the city.’”
He said Prop 106 would eliminate grants that partially underwrite MusicaNova Orchestra’s performance and education programs, “including professional orchestra concerts at the Musical Instrument Museum in North Phoenix, young artist concerts at AZ Piano in South Phoenix, and educational and performance collaboration with Harmony Project in South and West Phoenix.”
As for the light-rail prop, Altizer said, “The Phoenix arts community would suffer.”
“It kills extension of light rail service – forever – and cuts off significant areas of the Valley, including underserved communities in south, west, and east Phoenix from easy access to the downtown arts venues,” he said, adding:
Light rail stops near Phoenix Symphony Hall and the Orpheum Theatre, at Roosevelt Row, and in the Central Arts District (near the Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix Theatre, Arizona Opera, the Heard Museum, and more), serve venues responsible for much of the nearly half-billion dollars in economic impact. Do we really want to limit growth of these organizations and the economic benefit that goes with it?”
He ripped the two “dangerous propositions” and said a vote against them would be in favor of the arts.