Arizona needs a 21st century public transportation system - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Arizona needs a 21st century public transportation system

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Serena Unrein is a public interest advocate for the Arizona Public Interest Research Group Education Fund which conducts research and education on public interest issues.

Posted: Thursday, April 28, 2011 4:23 pm | Updated: 8:44 am, Fri Apr 29, 2011.

For the first time, Arizona's State Transportation Board approved a state rail plan which includes connecting the major metropolitan areas of Phoenix and Tucson by passenger rail. In a state known for its reliance on single-occupant vehicles and its lack of good public transportation, this is a crucial step forward for providing Arizonans with better transportation options.

Over the past few decades, Arizona's population has skyrocketed, but our population growth hasn't been matched by an investment in public transportation, leaving most Arizonans to rely on their cars to get around.

Most Arizonans make daily trips for work, school or other responsibilities such as getting to doctor's appointments and visiting family members. Unfortunately, our current transportation system has many of us stuck endlessly waiting in traffic, spewing pollution into the air and paying more and more at the gas pump to fill our tank. There has got to be a better way.

Arizona needs a transportation system that meets the needs of the 21st century - one in which public transportation plays a much bigger role than it does today. Connections developing between businesses, the universities and individuals are causing Phoenix and Tucson to become increasingly dependent on one another. But while three-quarters of Arizona's residents live in the "Sun Corridor" - the areas around and connecting Phoenix and Tucson - there are no public transportation options between Arizona's two largest cities.

It seems like no matter how many times we expand the I-10, it's nearly impossible to drive between Phoenix and Tucson without getting stuck in traffic. There are also some horrific accidents that occur on that stretch. Future population growth will increase the demands on our current transportation infrastructure. We cannot continue to rely on pavement alone to connect the Sun Corridor.

The State Transportation Board took a big step forward by approving a state rail plan, which prioritizes connecting Phoenix and Tucson by passenger rail and eventually expanding the rail to reach even more parts of the state. The Arizona Department of Transportation is now moving forward with a study to determine the best corridor for the Phoenix-Tucson intercity rail. Having a state rail plan also puts Arizona in a position to apply for federal passenger rail dollars.

Rail between Phoenix and Tucson will significantly reduce the strain on the I-10, reducing congestion and improving our safety. Passenger rail will improve economic productivity by reducing travel time between the two urban areas and allowing people to work while they travel.

Passenger rail connecting our state's two largest cities is essential for Arizona's future. Business relies on the efficient movement of people and goods. Students need to get from their homes to the universities. All of us deserve a better way to go - one that helps to reduce congestion and air pollution and that gets us where we need to go safely and efficiently.

While it's exciting to see that some important progress is being made, there are still a lot of steps ahead to bring passenger rail to Arizona. It's now up to our state's leaders to make it happen so Arizonans can have better transportation options.

• Serena Unrein is a public interest advocate for the Arizona Public Interest Research Group Education Fund which conducts research and education on public interest issues.

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