When the City of Phoenix was considering the transit sales tax increase in 2015, hidden in the noise of the campaign was a proposed transit project to extend the light rail line along Central Ave. from Washington/Jefferson South to Baseline Rd.
Throughout the entire transportation planning process at City Hall, only scant details were provided to local residents and business owners on the impact the Central Ave. light rail line would have on the community. Only now is the truth coming out, and local residents are rightfully aghast at how destructive this project is going to be.
Among the most shocking discoveries was the fact that the proposed project would reduce Central Ave. from 4 lanes to 2, a drastic change that will increase traffic congestion and inflict immeasurable economic damage to neighboring businesses. Additionally, the elimination of multiple left turn lanes will make access to many shops nearly impossible along the route.
If the specter of an unnavigable two-lane road isn’t scary enough, the reality is that many of these shops won’t survive the construction phase of the project—4 years of aggravating roadwork that will send customers fleeing and crushing their bottom line.
The false claims of community support were just as disturbing. For months, Phoenix circulated materials claiming enthusiastic support from businesses along Central Ave. One small problem: many of the allegedly supportive business owners either were unaware of the light rail project or opposed it altogether. Larry White of Lolo’s Chicken and Waffles and Pastor James Preston of Preston Funeral Homes and Bethesda Community Baptist Church had to submit written letters expressing their disapproval of light rail after discovering that they were listed as supporters of the plan.
In response to Phoenix’s deceptive rail campaign, a citizen led effort called “4 Lanes, or No Train” organized to try and stop the current proposal in its tracks. Their goal is to educate the South Mountain Village community on the detrimental impacts of the current proposal and offer common-sense alternatives.
Their demands are reasonable: maintain 4 street lanes for cars along Central Ave, expedite construction, explore alternative transit solutions that cost less than light rail, and oppose any confiscation of private businesses and private property from the citizens.
The community response to ‘4 Lanes or No Train’ has been tremendous. After learning more about the high costs ($140 Million per lane mile for light rail), increased congestion and inevitable closure of many local small businesses, over 3,000 residents have signed their petition. Group organizer and owner of a window tinting shop, Celia Contreras, fears that her business will be one of the casualties.
So far Phoenix has ignored the community outcry, but the pressure is mounting. A community meeting has been scheduled for May 31st at the South Mountain Community Center to discuss the project, and it is likely to become a campaign issue in the Phoenix Council Elections.
The outstanding question is how will this particular story end? Defeating the light rail lobby is an uphill climb, as they are well funded, politically powerful and sinister in their tactics. Our hope is Celia Contreras and her community allies are successful in derailing the light rail scam.