The contractors, sub-contractors, and elected officials hereabouts who truly love Sound Transit light rail will be disappointed to learn that the Phoenix light rail system — first cousin to ours — has been stopped in its present tracks by local officials unable to find sufficient revenues to pay for the proposed $273 million extension. The Phoenix system is paid for with local sales-tax receipts, which have plunged recently.
Phoenix officials announced that contracts would not be awarded, as previously planned, for a so-called Northwest Extension of the present "starter line" (yes, that is what they call the city-only line in Phoenix, as they do here), along another three miles of planned track. The starter line opened six years ago.
Consideration of the extension will be delayed at least 16 months, the Phoenix deputy city manager said. The decision announced Thursday (June 25) was the most recent signal that the planned 57-mile network is in trouble. Last month regional transportation groups agreed to push most light-rail projects back a year or two. A 12-mile track to Paradise Valley was pushed back to 2030, when taxing authority already will have expired. A South Tempe spur has run into technical and money problems and now local officials are discussing its replacement by a bus rapid transit system. The Scottsdale City Council last week voted to withdraw from the regional light-rail board, signaling its general unwillingness to extend the system in its direction. Extension of the system westward also has been delayed.
The Phoenix system, just as ours, no longer is that originally approved by voters; it, too, has removed promised stations and changed its routing. Phoenix Metro, which runs the system, says its overall goals remain the same although economic hard times have curtailed revenues.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, a strong supporter of financing for Sound Transit light rail, spoke to a meeting of Phoenix-area local and regional officials when the Phoenix system was under discussion, urging a go-ahead on a light-rail system there. She has not been able to bring money to the Phoenix system, however, because it relies soley on local sales-tax revenues and does not accept federal support.