Phoenix voters approved a massive $2.9 billion multimodal public transport improvement scheme by a two-to-one margin. The plan, called Transit 2000, was passed on March 14.
The plan will raise the Maricopa County (where Phoenix is located) sales tax from 7.1% to 7.5%, generating an estimated $2.9 billion over 20 years. Two-thirds of the revenue will be used to expand the bus system, with the remaining third ($1.2 billion) to be used to build the starter segment of a light rail network. The plan envisions 24 miles of light rail lines, the first of which in an east-west corridor, with a revenue service opening date of the initial segment in 2006.
The vote capped a long battle to set aside local funds for public transport expansion. A more ambitious plan failed at the ballot box several years ago, although Phoenix voters approved it. It was one reason why this time around the vote was confined to only one county in the sprawling metropolitan area, which has recently grown to become the sixth most populous in the U.S. over an area larger than Los Angeles. Such low-density development has seen vehicle miles soar, threatening federal withdrawal of highway funds over air quality issues.
The vote should set the stage for a federal full funding grant agreement. New federal rail project guidelines rate projects with secure local funding much higher than those without such funding in place.