The fact that a Glendale transportation working group has been meeting every two weeks for the past month and a half is an indication that light rail may not be that far from making its presence felt in the city.
In fact, Valley Metro has a full-color map showing alternative routes for the transit system’s entry onto Glendale city streets. Any expansion of light rail in Phoenix and on into Glendale, however, will depend on an election that takes place Aug. 25 in the state’s largest municipality.
Voters in Phoenix started early voting July 30 on Proposition 104, which would increase the transportation sales tax from .04 percent (approved by voters in 2000) to .07 percent, an increase that would carry through 2050. The 35-year plan would triple the number of light rail miles now in operation (13.5 miles x 3 = 40.5) at a cost of $31.5 billion. Sales tax revenues, plus fares and other regional, state, and federal dollars would fund the plan.
If Prop. 104 passes, the light rail costs in Phoenix would be covered by that city’s taxpayers.
Glendale Transit Administrator Kevin Link said if voters in Phoenix do not pass Prop. 104, “it wouldn’t necessarily doom our project. Obviously, if it does fail, we would work with other regional partners (such as Valley Metro).”
The current transportation sales tax in Phoenix goes out to 2020, Link said, so there was a good potential Phoenix officials would go out to voters with an alternative funding plan in the future.
“It would depend on how soon Phoenix would go back to voters,” Link added. “We have some leeway before we’re scheduled to open up operations for the West Phoenix/Central Glendale project.”
The entire segment from 19th to roughly 59th avenues is scheduled to open in 2026, Link said.
“It looks like it is going to connect on Montebello, between Camelback and Bethany Home roads,” Link said. “If 104 should fail, we would have to work with Phoenix and the rest of our partners to keep the project on schedule. We’re hoping it passes, along with the City of Phoenix.”
Once the line goes across 43rd Avenue into Glendale, where does the funding come from?
Link said it would come from the capital budget - $110 million - but that could change depending on the route chosen. The city will likely have to do some bonding, he said, and use funds from Glendale’s On Board half-cent sales tax from transportation and transit budgets.
The estimate for operation of the light rail is $1 million per mile annually. How many miles depends on the alignment. If it is on Glendale Avenue, that’s two and one-half miles times two (both directions), which Link said was “definitely cheaper for Glendale.”
If the route comes from Camelback Road along the 43rd alignment, that would add two miles to Glendale’s cost.
Link said, “Again, because the route has not been decided, if it is the 43rd alignment, we have not worked that out with Phoenix on how to determine costs.”
This is because 43rd from Camelback to Peoria Avenue is the dividing line between Phoenix and Glendale.
After Prop. 104 is decided, one way or the other, Phoenix and Glendale city councils need to adopt the Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA), the route the rail or Bus Rapid Transit will take. The plan is for both councils to adopt the LPA in early 2016.
“Once that LPA has been adopted, then the fun will start and we’ll start getting the plan through MAG (Maricopa Association of Governments) and the environmental study,” Link said.
He pointed to the success of light rail in Tempe and Mesa, saying, “Obviously, it speaks for itself.”
Along the light rail routes in those cities, along with Phoenix, Link said projects completed or underway represent an $8.2 billion investment ($6 billion in the private sector), which translates to about a 300 percent return on the public sector investment.
In Glendale, Link said there’s nothing that will go to the voters. The city’s transportation working group is meeting and is discussing its recommendations for the LPA. From there, it goes to the Citizens Transportation Oversight Committee (CTOC), which was established to oversee the Glendale Onboard program. The working group’s LPA will be submitted to CTOC, and CTOC will make the recommendation to council for a vote.
“There are certain criteria the feds (Federal Transit Administration) want to see,” Link said. “Land ownership, best routes. We want to give the feds the best project that will rank the highest.
“We’re working through the issues, pros and cons, once downtown, the alignment we will use. It will be very interesting to see what the group comes up with in the next couple months.”
Glendale’s Ocotillo council district would be split by the light rail, no matter which of the two plans is selected.
There is a faction within Ocotillo that is adamantly opposed to that split. But Ocotillo Councilmember Jamie Aldama said he wants to have a town hall-type meeting with his constituents to get their thoughts first-hand. He expects to hear from business owners as well, whose livelihoods would be affected by light rail construction.
“I want to hear from those who are against it as much as those who want it,” Aldama. “I want to hear from everybody. I want everybody to have factual information. I want the business owners and other stakeholders to have a seat at the table. We simply want to have a dialogue.”
Tentatively, Aldama said he definitely plans to hold a meeting in September, but as of this time, no certain date has been set.