Valley cities have to push hard for rail support in Congress - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

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Valley cities have to push hard for rail support in Congress

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Posted: Tuesday, March 29, 2011 4:11 pm

Valley transit advocates are lobbying hard to secure federal funds for new rail systems in Tempe, Mesa and elsewhere, fearing the success of the Metro line may not be enough to win over Congress.

Political leaders count many factors working for them: The Metro line has 50 percent more riders than projected, the White House supports transit and federal transit officials offered praise of Metro during a visit this week.

But even some of Arizona’s Congressional delegation may not support rail projects, Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said. He’s worried the anti-spending climate could override the economic development that he expects more transit to create.

“Our concern is the overall tendency in Congress to cut, cut, cut and cut away,” Smith said.

He was one of several elected officials who spent much of Monday whisking federal transit authorities along the Metro route to highlight progress. They claim development within walking distance of light-rail stations is $6.9 billion, which they say justifies the system’s $1.4 billion cost. Weekday boardings are nearly 40,000 a day despite projections of 26,000 a day.

The statistics and development along the line impressed Peter Rogoff, administrator of the Federal Transit Administration. He noted the Obama administration’s 2012 budget includes a $200 million Metro extension in Mesa, which would bring the line to Mesa Drive. Local officials also discussed plans for a streetcar on Mill Avenue in Tempe, and pushing the Mesa line to Gilbert Road. Rogoff said the Valley’s ridership will be a strong factor in winning federal approval.

“We want to continue to move forward and extend a very successful line to other communities,” Rogoff said.

The tour indicated local support isn’t as strong. One of the tour hosts was U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor, a Democrat who represents Phoenix. Not present were Reps. David Schweikert and Jeff Flake, Republicans who represent parts of Tempe and Mesa, respectively. Smith said he’s trying to convince the two of transit’s benefit.

Rogoff was especially impressed with a discovery he made on his own while riding Metro on the weekend. To illustrate, he showed a cell phone picture he took Saturday night while in Tempe, where a swarm of high school students going to prom swarmed train. That shows how locals have integrated the transit system into their daily lives, Rogoff said.

“They took over a whole car and they were having the time of their lives,” he said.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6548 or ggroff@evtrib.com

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