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Phoenix Looks Ahead

When Phoenix-area residents overwhelmingly approved a 231-mile freeway program at a projected cost of $5.6 billion four years ago, many critics complained that the Arizona metropolis was hellbent on committing all the mistakes of the Los Angeles area. More freeways would just lead to more sprawl, more traffic congestion and air pollution, they said.

But inherent in the concept--although not ready for a popular vote at the time--was the understanding that Phoenix could not build a transportation future entirely around freeways. This spring, Maricopa County residents will vote again on what some have called the most ambitious transit program undertaken by any U.S. city. It is Proposition 300, the $8.4-billion ValTrans (Valley Transit) proposal that will be decided at the ballot March 28.

As community leaders appeal for support, they use Los Angeles as the example not to follow--of a city that tried to build its way out of congestion with ever more freeways and that finally turned to mass rail transit, but at great expense. “Now we have a chance to avoid repeating the L.A. mistake,” says one brochure promoting passage of Proposition 300.

Proposition 300 would raise the local sales tax, now 6 1/2 cents on the dollar, by one-half cent over a 30-year period to provide what appears to be a logical and flexible mix of transportation facilities. The capstone would be a 103-mile elevated rapid transit line featuring automated trains that would run as frequently as every 90 seconds. The first 25 miles would be put into service by 1995 from Glendale through downtown Phoenix and Sky Harbor Airport to Tempe and Arizona State University.

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Other segments would include the start of conventional commuter trains by 1991 from the East Valley to Arizona State and downtown, additional freeways and busways, expansion of countywide bus lines that ultimately would be coordinated with the elevated rail-line schedules, park-and-ride lots and door-to-door transit for the disabled and senior citizens.

During the 30-year evolution of the project, the Phoenix metropolitan area is expected to grow from 2 million residents to 5 milllion. Life will be far more tolerable, and economical, for those 5 million if Phoenicians with foresight choose to invest in such a mixed transportation plan now.


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