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Today the Arizona PIRG Education Fund released a report outlining funding options that transportation officials can explore to expand the light rail system in the Phoenix metro area.
“Light rail plays an important role for the Valley. Ridership on METRO Light Rail continues to increase and it’s important to our economy that more people in the area have light rail near where they live and work,” said Serena Unrein, Public Interest Advocate for the Arizona PIRG Education Fund. “Unfortunately, declining sales tax revenues have delayed many of the planned expansions of light rail and it’s uncertain if some of the extensions will get built at all now.”
When it opened in December 2008, the METRO Light Rail system was supposed to be a 20 mile “starter” line that would be expanded to 57 miles of track by 2025. Most of the planned extensions for the light rail system were to be paid for through Proposition 400, the sales tax enacted by Maricopa County voters in 2004. However, the current estimates of revenues for the 20-year life of the sales tax are 26% lower than originally expected, causing the planned expansions to be delayed significantly.
“People across the Valley want light rail and funding needs to be secured so that the planned extensions can be built,” said Unrein. “For example, Glendale will have to wait until 2026 to see their light rail line if new funding isn’t identified.”
The Arizona PIRG Education Fund report explores a variety of funding options that Phoenix and other cities in the area could use to ensure light rail’s expansion. Some of the options include revising the provision in the Arizona Constitution that prohibits the gas tax from funding transit options, increasing car registration and title fees, and using development impact fees to fund light rail.
“The light rail system is essential for economic development in the Valley. Through increased jobs, profits, and tax revenue, dollars invested in public transit provide an economic benefit far exceeding the original investment,” stated Unrein. “The expansion of light rail is an investment in economic development and job creation that Arizona can’t afford to pass up.”
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