Tucson voters' overwhelming rejection on Tuesday of a transportation tax proposal that contained a controversial light-rail line should not be lost on Valley officials working on a similar plan here.
Compared with the Valley's $17.1 billion regional transportation plan, Tucson's $1 billion proposal to improve streets, expand regular and express bus service and build a 13-mile light-rail line was modest in scope. It would have raised the city's sales tax by a mere three-tenths of 1 percent.
Political observers in Tucson say most of the package was widely supported by citizens and community leaders alike, but that the high cost of the light-rail line — about 22 percent of the entire package — turned off voters. The Tucson Chamber of Commerce opposed the proposal because of the light-rail component, and a spokesman on Tuesday night said its defeat will open the door to a more cost-effective plan that concentrates on roads.
If Tucson, which has a large Democratic political base that supports public transit, rejects light rail, more conservative Valley voters are certain to turn thumbs down on a proposal that would pour nearly half of all mass transit revenue into just a few miles of light rail.
Simply put, there are better, faster and more economical ways to move people than light rail, which costs about $50 million per mile to construct and would eliminate badly needed traffic lanes.
Although East Valley mayors have acquiesced to the light rail component as a sop to Phoenix, Valley voters are less likely to go along with something that would rob funds from modes such as bus rapid transit that would move far more people faster and at a more reasonable cost. Just as Tucson voters looked at the map and realized they would not use the line, Valley voters would shake their heads and vote no as well.
The state Legislature, which must approve the Valley plan before it goes to the ballot, can save it from electoral defeat by eliminating the rail component and shifting those funds to far more practical bus and street improvements.