Scottsdale City Council halts fixed-rail push in Transportation Master Plan update

A view of the April 12 work session where Scottsdale City Council begun deliberations regarding the city's Transportation Master Plan. (Independent Newsmedia/Melissa Fittro)

A view of the April 12 work session where Scottsdale City Council began deliberations regarding the city’s Transportation Master Plan update. (Independent Newsmedia/Melissa Fittro)

Scottsdale City Council is excluding fixed-rail — specifically Light Rail and modern street car — from the ongoing Transportation Master Plan update, which will dictate the vision of future transit options available to residents and visitors for years to come.

Scottsdale City Council Tuesday, April 12 hosted a four-hour special work study discussion on the Transportation Master Plan update at City Hall, 3939 E. Drinkwater Blvd., where staff outlined its recommendations to the plan devised by the Scottsdale Transportation Commission.

The Scottsdale Transportation Commission is a seven-member advisory group made up of local residents appointed by members of Scottsdale City Council.

The update is expected to set the tone of what mass-transit and transportation options — from buses and trollies to roads and highways down to walking paths — that will be contemplated and ultimately pursued within city limits for the foreseeable future.

Downtown business owners raised concerns over one facet of the proposed Transportation Master Plan update: potential future rail routes.

They say the idea of having fixed-rail contemplated at the city staff and commission level was a sign of municipal intentions while proponents of high-capacity transit say previously proposed routes were just opening the door to the conversation of what mass-transit options need to be contemplated in years to come.

Major consternation erupted over the idea the proposed route would be along Scottsdale Road through the historic downtown marketplace, a point that seems to be debated between city staff and certain members of city council.

“There is no rail route included on Scottsdale Road through downtown,” said Scottsdale Transportation Director Paul Basha at the work study. “That is wrong — that is simply wrong.”

A contemplated route

Mr. Basha says one of the routes included in the Transportation Master Plan update contemplated a fixed-rail route originating from the Scottsdale Fashion Center and traveling southbound on Scottsdale Road.

Residents came out against fixed-rail measures that have been added to the Scottsdale Transportation Master Plan update now at the city council level. (Independent Newsmedia/Melissa Fittro)

Residents came out Tuesday, April 12 against fixed-rail measures that have been added to the Scottsdale Transportation Master Plan update now at the city council level. (Independent Newsmedia/Melissa Fittro)

The route would eventually align with Drinkwater and Goldwater boulevards on either side of Scottsdale Road, and link back to Scottsdale Road at Osborn Road where the route would continue south along Scottsdale Road to the Light Rail Station at Rural Road and University Boulevard in neighboring Tempe.

Scottsdale Councilwoman Kathy Littlefield says Scottsdale Road has a mass-transit designation that until yesterday could have brought Light Rail to the thoroughfare.

“Light Rail is old technology. It will destroy our main north-and-south corridor that is Scottsdale Road,” she said.

“Scottsdale Road is the federally designated route for Light Rail. I know that for a fact. My husband (former Councilman Bob Littlefield) tried to change that two years ago, but failed. If Light Rail comes to Scottsdale it will be on Scottsdale Road.”

Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane says he has concerns about Light Rail no matter what route it would have taken within city limits.

“I have a real concern about this no matter if it has to go under a bridge or not,” he said at the work study pointing out the hefty tax dollars at play when fixed-rail transit projects are pursued.

“Who are we really serving with these funds? I really did not believe we were talking about Light Rail when we started this opportunity to keep our options open, but I do understand the fear. I don’t like to shut out options but this is not something I would like to see. And, I definitely don’t want to see it up Scottsdale Road.”

Scottsdale Vice Mayor David Smith says the notion of suggesting Scottsdale Road downtown is not a key part of a Light Rail route within city limits is disingenuous.

“I am disappointed we are talking about this,” he said. “To try and diffuse the situation by saying we are not using Scottsdale Road is simplistic at its best and devious at its worse.”

Scottsdale Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp also took issue with the identification of fixed-rail routes within the proposed update.

“I believe putting maps like this with routes pinning it to Light Rail does not add to the conversation, it takes away from it,” she said at the work study. “We should not be pinning down routes in the downtown area. Why are we looking at Light Rail when many believe it to be old technology?”

Mr. Basha said the Scottsdale Transportation Department included the rail routes at the specific request of the Transportation Commission despite then-Scottsdale City Manager Fritz Behring last year saying rail should not be considered in the update due to the 2009 vote where Scottsdale residents voted down a Light Rail measure.

“The Transportation Commission had a different opinion,” he said of the unanimous vote at the commission level to include the fixed-rail options within the master plan update.

“If we concur with their recommendation then we include the recommendation and that is why we are here today to consider potential rail routes.”

Scottsdale council members Littlefield, Smith, Phillips, Klapp and Mayor Lane agreed direction to city staff ought to exclude from the master plan update the contemplation of any fixed-rail transit options.

The impact on local business

Scottsdale Councilman Guy Phillips contends downtown business owners want Light Rail in Scottsdale buried once and for all.

Guy Phillips

Guy Phillips

“The business owners want this dead,” he said at the work study. “They want to drive a stake through this and be done with it.”

Scottsdale Councilwoman Virgina Korte disagrees and points out pillars of the Scottsdale business community have pledged their support to pursuing high-capacity transit options in the future transit landscape of Scottsdale.

“I believe the most important conversation we can have tonight is about the connectivity we have with the rest of the region,” she said.

“I think we need to take into consideration our visitors. Our (convention and visitor’s bureau) has determined that high-capacity transit is a critical issue. This is based on market research.”

Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Hiegel was one of five members of the public allowed to speak to the Transportation Master Plan update at the work study discussion.

“Companies moving to Scottsdale need to understand that we are looking ahead to their future transportation needs,” he said of why it is important to consider all aspects of multi-modal transit options.

“Specific businesses like healthcare and resorts need to get their workers and staff in and out of our great city. This not only includes their current workforce needs, but their future talent attraction and retention needs, and the impact on their customer’s experience.”

Mr. Hiegel says a recent poll of 300 Scottsdale business and community leaders showed that 75 percent thought Light Rail should be in Scottsdale.

“By including multi-modal options in the Transportation Master Plan, it will not guarantee any specific route or type of transit. It simply allows the city to be included in future studies and discussions,” he pointed out.

“A world-class city does not rely solely on cars, buses and trolleys to create connectivity between major economic and residential hubs, community centers, and entertainment and recreational destinations. The most connected economies in the world are the most financially productive and prolific. A robust transportation system that includes diverse transportation options plays a major role in the connectivity and success of these prolific economies.”

Councilman Phillips contends the business owners he is talking to are firmly against fixed rail in the city of Scottsdale.

“I firmly stand with the downtown merchants and property owners who are solidly against any form of fixed rail in Scottsdale,” he said in an April 13 e-mail, adding that transit-oriented development is fueling the Light Rail fire once again.

“Once the voters turned down rail 10 years ago there has been a concerted effort via transit-oriented development, (multi-family housing) to bring in thousands of new voters who they hope will clamor for rail. I am firmly opposed to any sort of fixed rail in Scottsdale; it is archaic and Scottsdale deserves better transportation options.”

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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