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Jason Donofrio,
Arizona PIRG Education Fund

Maricopa County Leaders Urged to Include More Transit in Plans

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Statement of Serena Unrein, Public Interest Advocate for the Arizona PIRG Education Fund, to the Maricopa Association of Governments

“The Arizona PIRG Education Fund and the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) appreciate the opportunity to file joint comments on the most recent Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) transportation plans and we appreciate the work of MAG to increase public transportation in Maricopa County.

One of the stated goals of the MAG Regional Transportation Plan is to “sustain the environment” by undertaking transportation improvements that help sustain our environment and quality of life.  Our organizations agree that this is a commendable goal.  The Arizona PIRG Education Fund and SWEEP also believe that it is important for consumers to have options other than just driving, as it provides a way to save money during these tough economic times and also reduces congestion.

As you know, the MAG Transportation Improvement Plan draft calls for 78% of the total funds committed for projects for Fiscal Years 2011-2015 to be dedicated for freeway and street projects, while only 18% of the total amount of funds during those years will go toward rail and bus projects.

By prioritizing freeway and street projects over clean and efficient modes of transportation such as rail and bus, Maricopa County is destined to fall short of meeting its goal of sustaining the environment.  The Arizona PIRG Education Fund advocates that funding for transportation should be moving in a direction where at least half of funding is dedicated toward clean, efficient options other than driving.  We encourage MAG to reevaluate and increase the share of funding allocated to rail and bus projects.

It does not appear to our organizations that MAG accounted for the reduction in transit funding caused by the state Legislature’s stripping of the Local Transportation Assistance Fund (LTAF II) in the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) Update and the Conformity Analysis.

As transit agencies budgets are already stretched due to loss of sales tax revenues, the loss of the LTAF funding comes at an especially critical time for transit in the region. We believe the LTAF funds are an important source of funding due to the flexibility with which they can be used for capital, operating or planning expenses.

The cutting of the LTAF II funding for local transportation services is expected to result in over $21 million less funding for the region in FY 2011. $21 million represents just under 10% of the FY 2010-2011 budget for Valley Metro, the Regional Public Transportation Authority (RPTA). Over the timeline of the Regional Transportation Plan (2011 to 2031), the MAG region will lose $361.1 million in funding which is just over 2% of the projected funding for transit over this period.

In response to the funding cuts, Valley Metro is considering cutting or reducing service on over 50 routes throughout the region, with a final decision on the service cuts expected by the end of June.

The expected reductions in service levels will likely lead to fewer people using public transit and more people using passenger vehicles, resulting in an increase of vehicle miles traveled (VMT), congestion and pollution. If these increases in VMT are not accounted for in the conformity analysis, it will provide an inaccurate forecast of the region’s VMT, congestion and emissions, which will be higher than the forecast levels due to the reduction or elimination of transit services.

While the explicit changes in service had not been made prior to the commencement of modeling and could not have been included in the planning assumptions, the RTP Update should be based on the best information available. SWEEP contacted MAG staff concerning how the LTAF cuts were being incorporated into the RTP Update and has not yet received a response to this question, so we are uncertain if this information has been developed and if the impacts have been accounted for adequately. If the LTAF funds have not been incorporated into the RTP Update, we urge an additional run of the model incorporating the final transit service cuts and revisions to the Update recognizing the lost funding would make the Update a more accurate reflection of the transportation situation in the MAG region over the next 20 years.

Thank you for your consideration of the above points and for the opportunity to comment.”

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