Scottsdale’s Rail Battle

This recent article on AZCentral completely ignores the fact that if you look at the data, light rail makes much less sense than investing in our existing bus system. It’s cheaper, more flexible, and won’t put any one out of business during a protracted construction phase.

Light rail promoters like Korte (who hopes to gain personally from a property value bump), Derouin, and Gettinger, are hoping to reignite a ‘conversation’ that was had–and was over–years ago.

Light rail still drawing battle lines in Scottsdale

Light rail has failed to gain any traction in Scottsdale, and transit commuters continue to rely largely on bus service to meet their public-transportation needs.

In Scottsdale, the mere mention of light-rail transit provokes strong opinions, arguments and even the occasional shouting match.

In recent years, some residents and city leaders have shunned light rail, pointing to what they say is its multimillion-dollar cost and possibility of drawing in more crime and disrupting businesses during construction.

As a result, light rail has failed to gain any traction in Scottsdale, and transit commuters continue to rely largely on bus service to meet their public-transportation needs.

An alternative to light rail could include a future bus route, known as LINK, that will connect riders in downtown Scottsdale directly to a light-rail station in Tempe.

The service often is “a precursor to light-rail service, building ridership demand in the corridor where it travels,” Valley Metro spokeswoman Susan Tierney said.

Although it is unlikely light rail would come to Scottsdale anytime soon — despite some potential destination points, such as Arizona State University’s SkySong Campus at McDowell and Scottsdale roads and the city’s popular downtown area — some city leaders and residents still want a dialogue.

Scottsdale Vice Mayor Virginia Korte said the last time Scottsdale officials really talked about light rail and other forms of mass public transportation was 10 years ago.

“That was, shall we say, denied by the citizenry,” Korte said. “So, we went forward with a master transportation plan that did not contain anything about fixed-rail transit.”

Korte said Scottsdale needs to have a dialogue on light rail and other transportation to meet the city’s needs in the long run.

Proponents have argued that Scottsdale runs the risk of falling behind other Valley cities that have embraced new forms of public transportation, especially those that are attractive for the younger crowd and future generations.

In Scottsdale, a LINK bus system is scheduled to begin service by April 2016 along Scottsdale/Rural road between Camelback Road and University Drive in Tempe.

LINK is different from local bus service, Tierney said. The idea is to connect riders directly to light-rail stations.

“Stops are approximately every mile instead of every quarter of a mile,” Tierney said. “The bus ‘stations’ are designed to be similar to rail stations.”

Dana Close, a founding member of the Scottsdale Gateway Alliance, said she supports having a conversation about light rail in the broadest context, including dialogue on buses, trolleys and all other forms of transportation.

The Scottsdale Gateway Alliance is a local organization focused on promoting redevelopment along the McDowell Road corridor, which has struggled in recent years but is making a comeback through new development.

But most Scottsdale residents have never wanted light rail and likely never will, argues Scottsdale City Councilman Guy Phillips.

In discussions about light rail years ago, “anyone within shouting distance knew the heated discussions that were taking place all over town,” Phillips said.

“The city’s transportation staff pushed hard to sell rail on our citizens, to no avail,” he said. “The people wanted no part of fixed rail in Scottsdale.”

Phillips argued that public sentiment has not changed.

“Go to any open meeting being held today for candidates running for election to the Scottsdale City Council and you will discover nothing has changed,” Phillips said. “Like oil and water, Scottsdale and light rail are not a good mix.”

Becky Fenger, spokeswoman for the Scottsdale Citizens Transportation Study Committee, cites what she believes are negative impacts from any form of mass transit along Scottsdale Road, such as increased air pollution, higher emergency-response times, the condemnation of private property and more criminals.

“Remember, it is not the people who are demanding rail transit or modern streetcar in Scottsdale,” Fenger said. “It is the officials and their friends who would profit from it.”

Michael Fernandez, a political activist and downtown business owner who has railed against building light rail in Scottsdale, said it would destroy downtown Scottsdale. He called light rail “a boondoggle.”

Fernandez, who was recently forced to close Pottery Paradise in downtown Scottsdale, said he has more free time for political activism and light rail will be his No. 1 issue.

But others say the city is falling behind.

Scottsdale residents Jerry Gettinger and Jim Derouin presented a petition to the Scottsdale City Council last year asking to initiate a dialogue on high-capacity transportation, such as light rail.

“Detractors argue that light rail is the technology that would be used in Scottsdale, if Scottsdale were to be connected to the regional transportation system,” Derouin said. “That is not necessarily the case. Thus, it is misleading to always refer to this as a debate over light rail.”

Gettinger, a light-rail proponent, said the subject needs to be broached in such a way that “nobody is going to get yelled at and nobody is going to get anything thrown at them.”

According to the city and U.S. Census Bureau, Scottsdale had the highest percentage of people age 65 and older among U.S. cities with more than 100,000 residents. The number is expected to double by 2030, the city said.

“My interest is we have no good transit system that caters to the older population,” Gettinger said.

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1 Comment

  1. FYI: The Korte Family sold their property on the corner of McDowell and Scottsdale Roads last year.

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