Master plan: Scottsdale will not pursue fixed-rail transit options moving forward

The Scottsdale Transportation Master Plan will not envision any kind of fixed-rail transit options moving forward, city officials say. (File photo)

The Scottsdale Transportation Master Plan will not envision any kind of fixed-rail transit options moving forward, city officials say. (File photo)

Scottsdale City Council has turned its back on the prospect of allowing any kind of fixed-rail transit system within city limits.

The governing board, Tuesday, July 5, voted 5 to 2 on the latest Scottsdale Transportation Master Plan update — a policy document focused on things from bus and trolley routes to roads, highways and walking paths.

The plan was devised by the Scottsdale Transportation Commission, which is a seven-member advisory group made up of local residents appointed by members of Scottsdale City Council.

Scottsdale Councilwomen Linda Milhaven and Virginia Korte were the dissenting votes.

Councilwoman Korte, during the public hearing, sought to remove the words “excluding rail and modern street car” from the first paragraph of Page 31 of the policy document but the effort died on the local dais.

Ultimately, Councilman Guy Phillips offered a motion to adopt the master plan resolution as presented with the exclusion of all fixed-rail uses or the prospect of having them. The master plan update is expected to set the tone of what mass-transit and transportation options will be available within city limits for the foreseeable future.

No city an island?

In recent months, downtown Scottsdale business owners raised concerns over the potential for future rail routes within city limits.

Virginia Korte

Virginia Korte

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.

“Of course, I am extremely disappointed, I believe that the majority of council lacks vision for the next 20 to 25 years — I believe that is a reflection of poor public policy,” said Councilwoman Virginia Korte in a July 6 phone interview.

“We don’t know what our needs will be in the next 20 to 25 years and to take tools out of the toolbox for our transportation needs is simply poor policy.”

Councilwoman Korte points out the need for high capacity, mass-transit options within Scottsdale.

“We import 83 percent of our workforce every single day,” she explained. “It equates to 50,000-plus cars coming into our city. We know tourism is our No. 1 industry and our visitors are looking for expediency and different options to come into and enjoy our city.”

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

Kathy Littlefield

Kathy Littlefield

Scottsdale Vice Mayor Kathy Littlefield says Scottsdale Road was the designated route for Light Rail and contends the city’s uniqueness and character would only be hindered by something like fixed-rail transit.

“We are not the tail that wags the dog,” she said in a July 6 phone interview.

“I don’t think Scottsdale needs to have Light Rail just because everyone else does. I am a councilmember for Scottsdale and what is good for our city that is where my primary focus needs to be. Light Rail would do nothing to add to our cache.”

Vice Mayor Littlefield says the residents she represents are extremely bearish on the prospect of fixed-rail transit.

“Our taxpayers have shown, over the last few bond elections, that they don’t want their taxes raised. The question becomes who do we represent? The citizens who pay their taxes or do we listen to the Light Rail managers?”

The cost of fixed-rail options like Light Rail go beyond the current appetite residents have for mass-transit options, Vice Mayor Littlefield says.

“Why should we pay $100 million a mile for something that will destroy our streets?” she pointed out. “How will that differentiate us from every other city? How does that make us special and unique.”

Paul Basha, the city’s transportation director, said, last April, the department included fixed-rail routes at the 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.

Councilwoman Korte says the conversation is not over when it comes to the future of mass-transit in Scottsdale.

“This conversation is not going away, it may be in hibernation for a while, but it’s not going away,” she said.

“Our transportation department and our commissioners have really done a great job in this document providing the future needs for additional bus and trolley routes. Those plans and vision will help our city provide the flexibility we need to get around in the city. The real issue is that Scottsdale is not connected to the rest of the Valley.”

Independent Newsmedia Arizona Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at

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