Congressional intervention put plans for light rail transit in Arizona’s Grand Canyon National Park on indefinite hold.
Park management planned on releasing its final request for proposal in October of last year, said Brad Traver, project manager for the proposed rail line. At that time, Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, requested that the release be delayed until members of the Arizona congressional delegation could be briefed.
After a visit to the park in late November, Rep. John Shadegg and Sen. Jon Kyl, both Republicans from Arizona, introduced legislation to halt the procurement process while non-rail alternatives were considered. The congressmen were concerned with the cost of introducing light rail when lower capacity alternatives would suffice, Traver said. He said that visitation at the Grand Canyon had been flat since 1993.
The park considered rubber tire bus options before deciding on light rail, said Traver. He said that the choice of light rail reflected a desire to eliminate the time and expense of stop-gap measures by investing in a system that could support the park’s eventual capacity. The decision was made as part of a larger master planning effort that offered the public three alternatives: limiting automobile access, building more roads and parking lots or developing a public transportation system.
Demand for parking spaces was the main impetus for considering transportation alternatives. The environmental benefits of a rail or bus system were an incidental plus, he said.
“Any mass transit alternative is cleaner than bringing more automobiles into the park,” Traver said. “Our primary issue is visitor service.”
Lea & Elliot, David Evans & Associates and the architectural firm Overland Partners were hired to conduct the study of transit alternatives to light rail. The park will examine new technologies, including dedicated roads and guided rubber tire vehicles that may approach light rail’s capacity, Traver said. The report is due in Congress on June 1 and Traver said that implementation of any project could not be expected before summer 2003.
“The question is how a system gets from its initial stages to managing the ultimate capacity of the park,” Traver said.
The light rail scheme shelved in October would have been privately financed, paid for entirely with park entrance fees. Traver noted that subsequent congressional interest may open up the possibility for federal funding of whatever system is eventually implemented.