New Report Highlights Arizona’s 21st Century Transportation Needs

Media Contacts
Jason Donofrio

Arizona PIRG Education Fund

Citing a surge of support for public transportation in Arizona, a new report by the Arizona PIRG Education Fund, Arizona’s New Frontier: Moving Our Transportation System into the 21st Century lists a selection of light rail, heavy rail, bus and other projects needed to keep Arizona moving.

“Public transit systems in Arizona relieve congestion, reduce our dependence on oil, curb pollution, stimulate the economy, and help to sustain healthy, vibrant communities,” stated Alex Nelson, Transportation Associate with the Arizona PIRG Education Fund. “Our state needs to build on clean and modern public transportation investments and provide communities and Arizonans with public transit options.”

According to the Arizona PIRG Education Fund, public transportation helps address Arizona’s economic, transportation and energy challenges.

  • In 2006, public transportation in Arizona saved approximately 5.8 million gallons of oil, saving consumers more than $15 million at the pump.
  • Public transportation prevented almost 3 million hours of traffic delay – equivalent to about 68,000 work weeks – in the Phoenix metropolitan area in 2006, saving the economy more than $55 million in wasted time and lost productivity. In the Tucson metropolitan area, public transportation prevented half a million hours of traffic delay, or 14,000 work weeks, preventing over $11 million worth of wasted money and productivity.
  • More and more Arizonans are choosing to take public transit rather than drive. Travel via public transportation in Arizona has increased at a faster rate than automobile travel since the early 1990s – with the number of passenger miles traveled on transit jumping 76 percent between 1993 and 2006.
  • Transit ridership continues to increase. In the first eight months of 2008, ridership on the state’s transit lines jumped 8.8 percent versus the year before, compared with a 2.9 percent drop in vehicle travel.
  • 74.8 percent of Arizonans still drive to work alone while only 2.1 percent take public transportation, meaning that there are plenty of opportunities to entice new riders to transit.

The report states that Arizona’s public transit system has not kept up with growing need. Arizona residents drive more miles, spend more on gasoline, experience more congestion, and produce more pollution from transportation than they did two decades ago.

  • Vehicle travel on Arizona highways increased by approximately 80 percent between 1992 and 2007. This is due both to a larger population and to more driving per person – the average Arizona resident is also driving about 11 percent more miles each year than 15 years ago.
  • Arizona residents spent about $4.5 billion more on gasoline in 2006 than they did in 1998, a product of more miles being driven in less efficient vehicles, coupled with higher gasoline prices.
  • Congestion on Arizona roads has continued to get worse. In 2005, Phoenix area residents spent about 82 million hours in traffic delays, while congestion cost the area’s economy about $1.7 billion. In the Tucson metropolitan area, travelers spent about 17 million hours in congestion, and congestion cost about $338 million.

While the report acknowledges that there are dozens of worthy public transit improvements that would give Arizona residents options to the rising cost of driving, it specifies that a comprehensive transit system for Arizona would include the following representative projects (not in order of priority):

A New Transportation Future for the Sun Corridor

  • Starting passenger rail service between Phoenix and Tucson, making travel easier between the cities as they become more and more interdependent.
  • Extending the new Valley Metro light rail system to Glendale, easing commutes and providing access to Glendale’s growing list of entertainment facilities and workplaces.
  • Extending Valley Metro along I-10 West to Tolleson, expanding travel options between Phoenix and the burgeoning West Valley to relieve congestion on I-10.
  • Building a commuter rail line between Phoenix and Wickenburg, increasing options for commuters in some of the most quickly growing cities in Arizona.
  • Extending the Orbit Shuttle Bus to South Tempe, giving neighborhoods easy and free connections with downtown Tempe, Arizona State University, and the Valley Metro light rail line.
  • Building and expanding a modern streetcar system in Tucson, helping people get around downtown and spurring investment in local business districts without creating new traffic and parking problems.

Adding Transportation Options Across the State

  • Launching bus service to connect Kingman, Bullhead City, and Lake Havasu, to increase the convenience of transportation for these rural towns.
  • Launching the Mountain Links Bus Rapid Transit line in Flagstaff, connecting North Arizona University and downtown Flagstaff with local shopping and residential areas.
  • Expanding public transportation in Yuma, to provide more frequent and flexible service on current bus routes and build transit infrastructure with an eye towards future growth.
  • Improving paratransit service in Mesa and elsewhere, providing vital transportation options for the elderly and disabled.

Nelson added, “To build a 21st century transit system that will accommodate Arizona’s current population and expected growth, the state needs a visionary and comprehensive public transportation plan with a stable and long-term source of funding.” According to the Arizona PIRG Education Fund, Arizona should do the following to address current and future transportation needs:

  • Develop a statewide transportation plan which ensures that Arizona’s public transportation systems meet the state’s current and future transportation needs, and increases integration between local, regional, and statewide transportation agencies and establish a stable, statewide source of funding for public transit that will ensure that the system can meet growing demand.
  • Require that all proposed transportation investments be evaluated for their impact on oil dependence and pollution. State government buildings should be located, to the extent possible, in areas with accessible transit service. And Arizona should encourage local governments to adopt land-use plans and zoning reforms that allow for and encourage compact development in and around transit stations.
  • Urge the U.S. Congress to revamp federal transportation policy when the federal transportation funding law comes up for reauthorization in 2009. Revisions should include shifting resources from highway expansion to transit projects and focusing federal money on strategic goals such as transportation system efficiency and safety, energy conservation and the creation of compact, sustainable communities.

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