Jane White kicked her odd mix of addictions a few years ago, telling herself that one slip would return her to a life of smoking or political activism.
She lived “clean” until a few months ago. When the 61-year-old Scottsdale resident heard about a $15.8 billion transportation plan for the Valley, stress made her yield to temptation.
White's kitchen table shows which vice is back in her bloodstream.
Binders cover the surface, filled with thousands of news clippings on transportation issues. A book of transportation projects sits on a nearby counter, and she enthusiastically rattles off statistics, traces freeway alignments and talks of fighting a Nov. 2 election on the transportation plan.
"The more you look at it, the worse the plan is," White says at her kitchen counter. "And that's because it's not a plan, it's a deal."
This is vintage White, who was one of the Valley's most vocal transportation activists during the freeway building boom of the 1980s and 1990s. Her outspokenness helped to change transportation policy in the Valley.
After a few years out of the spotlight, White plans to resume her battle. She's just starting to meet with others who oppose the plan, including some lawmakers and at least one city councilman, to organize a campaign.
White supports many of the projects in the plan, such as wider roads and freeways and increased bus service. But she opposes spending $2.2 billion on light-rail construction and funding the plan with continuation of a half-cent sales tax in Maricopa County for regional transportation projects.
White argues that most of the projects are local and should be financed by individual cities or regional plans. Politicians crafted the plan, she said, with more interest in economic development than in moving people.
"The public complains about congestion," White said. "The mayors use that anger from the public for what they really want, which is economic development — that's the reason for light rail."
The transportation plan has taken heat from some politicians and other activists for more than a year, but White has only recently been among the critics.
White's activism began in the mid-1980s, when the Arizona Department of Transportation announced her home and others along Pima Road in Scottsdale would be razed to build the Pima Freeway stretch of Loop 101. But everything was on hold while officials debated an alternate alignment to spare the homes.
The decision took years and held up hundreds of lives. Nobody could sell a home that might soon disappear.
White was a homemaker and C-Span junkie with no political experience. But she became active because of what she saw as the indifference of public officials to the human face of their decisions. White made sure they knew with telephone calls, appearances at public meetings and fights against projects she opposed. She was a key leader in getting the Maricopa Association of Governments to reform. The transportation planning group was largely driven by staff at the time, but complaints got Valley mayors to take a larger role and make the organization accountable to the public, said Tom Rawles, a former chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.
"She was an instrumental player," Rawles said. "I found her input and her approach to be very refreshing and very useful to me in trying to get the elected officials to take a more aggressive leadership role."
White is a relentless fighter, Rawles said, but still enjoyable to be around, even when the two disagreed. Even those who regularly were at odds with White gave her credit, including the late Scottsdale Mayor Herb Drinkwater. In 1985, he declared March 11 would be Jane White Day for her efforts.
White is intense when arguing her point, but jokes around even when explaining her deepest frustrations.
"If you don't laugh at this stuff, you'll blow your brains out," White said.
White also relaxes with a three-mile daily walk, quilting and tending to her collection of computers and electronic gadgets. White said she's not a social butterfly and is most content at home. But when she saw the new transportation plan, she decided to again challenge elected officials and transportation planners.
"It isn't much fun fighting all the power they have," White said. " You win 1 percent, but, oh, that 1 percent is so sweet."