Council vote split for light rail, route
by Glendale Chamber of Commerce on June 2nd, 2016

Photo by Ronald Morrison

The Glendale Star 

City Council voted 4-3 May 24 to approve Resolution 5108, which is the first step in extending Valley Metro’s light-rail system into downtown Glendale.

The resolution, which doesn’t commit any additional funds at the present time, states, “The city supports the Glendale Citizens Transportation Oversight Commission (GCTOC) recommendation of Valley Metro’s recommended route of west on Camelback Road to 43rd Avenue, north on 43rd to Glendale Avenue, west on Glendale to 51st Avenue, to west on Glenn Drive.”

It also identifies light rail as the preferred mode of transit, as well as additional study on where stations will be located, and how cars will shift from Glenn Drive to Myrtle Avenue near 51st/52 avenues. It also allows staff to develop a formal agreement with the City of Phoenix for funding of Glendale’s share of construction costs.

When Proposition 402 (GO! Glendale) was passed by Glendale voters in 2001, estimates put construction costs at $170 million for two miles of construction.

During the March 10 council workshop, Valley Metro recommended the route and added that the cost is expected to be approximately $130 million per mile to construct. Councilmembers were told the city would sell bonds to finance its portion of the cost, which would be a 35- to 40-percent split with the City of Phoenix.

The project would be funded by numerous sources, including Federal Highway Administration funds that would be used for 50 percent of the project.

The remainder of the funding would be 10 to 15 percent from regional sales tax from Proposition 400 (approved by a statewide vote in 2004), and 35 to 40 percent from local sales tax, such as Glendale Go Transportation Tax passed in 2001. Current estimates have construction costs nearing $1 billion. The city would also be on the hook for more than $4 million a year in maintenance.

The selected route was the final choice from a list that originally included numerous different routes, but ultimately selected because it is considered most cost-effective and the one that would draw the highest number of riders, according to Valley Metro.

A minority of councilmembers voiced their feelings that the decision was being rushed.

“I just don’t believe I have enough information to vote on this issue tonight,” said Councilmember Ray Malnar, during council discussion of the resolution. “I believe we should table this vote and research all possible options before we commit to this.”

Councilmember Lauren Tolmachoff, who said during the March 10 council workshop that if the light rail ended before Grand Avenue, she would be opposed to the project. However, she voted in favor of the resolution, even though the resolution only says, “analysis of the feasibility of a Grand Avenue/railroad crossing.”

“I would like to point out that this is not an either/or option,” Tolmachoff said. “We are not throwing out the baby with the bathwater; we are trying to move the city forward. These are difficult decisions that no matter what decision we make, we will make people unhappy, but I believe this is right for Glendale.”

Councilmembers against the project expressed concerns that businesses would leave or fail during construction and everyone would be affected by construction.

“I have a car lot who’s guaranteed he will leave before light rail even begins construction. I know everyone talks of this as the wave of the future. I don’t understand how laying tracks down a perfectly good road to transport people where we have cars already bringing thousands upon thousands of people to downtown Glendale is a prudent way to spend money,” said Vice Mayor Ian Hugh of the Cactus district.

Mayor Jerry Weiers attempted to amend the resolution before discussion. He wanted to include more research and study of possible streetcars in downtown Glendale.

“Evaluating the option of a shared traffic street car project along Glendale Avenue that would supplement the existing and future transit system and enhance rider accessibility to historic Downtown Glendale Avenue business district,” was Weiers’ proposed amendment to the resolution.

The amendment was seconded by Hugh, but failed 4-3 in the vote.

Weiers said he attempted to set up meetings with Interim CEO Steve Smith to discuss street cars, but never received a response from Valley Metro officials.[Steve Smith of Valley Metro]
Councilmember Jamie Aldama reiterated to his constituents of the Ocotillo district that this project was not coming to their neighborhoods.

“I have read on social media that homes, churches, schools and businesses are going to be knocked down and I advocate for them every day and this is what I do here on council,” Aldama said. “The Sonorita Community and Heart of Glendale, this vote removes all routes except Glenn Drive and it is not going through Sonorita or the barrio.”

He added that his vote in favor was for the future of Glendale, not just today.

“A 10-year-old kid today will be 20, needing to get to school and a job outside Glendale,” Aldama said. “You asked me to be a councilman with foresight not hindsight, and that’s what I’m doing today; build a better Glendale for business owners and residents.”

During the public hearing portion on the issue, speakers were vocal in their support and opposition of the project in a nearly full council chamber. Twenty-four citizens spoke up with the split being even.

“There are a lot of businesses we’ve talked to that have said they would invest in downtown Glendale. This is an economic driver for us. This is a catalyst to drive in new traffic to Glendale,” said Robert Heidt, president and CEO of the Glendale Chamber of Commerce.

Heidt also added that the Chamber was prepared to support candidates that support pro-business issues such as light rail.

“We respect the resident and business that may not survive, but I stand before you with an ever-growing organization that will support businesses in Glendale. We are soundly in support of this issue and are requesting you to pass it.”

Opponents to the resolution pointed out that the ridership would not be worth the cost citizens will be forced to pay.

“I was the campaign manager for Moving Glendale Forward and I sat on most of the meetings setting up the original ballot measure,” said Gail Meyers of the Barrel district. “The original measure was for expansion of bus services, increased Dial-a-Ride, express bus services, bike projects and light rail, among other items. Light rail was never promised to Glendale and today we are left with more questions than answers and you need to do more research.”

​Glendale resident Bobby Casares from the Ocotillo district said the vote 15 years ago to endorse light rail was only one option and maybe it should be sent back to voters.

​“That (original vote) was before the recession. That alone should change the thinking of everybody here. I’d like to maintain the kind of (community) ambience (downtown). Put this before voters,” Casares said.

While the vote gives Valley Metro the authorization to continue, it is a major milestone for the project.

“This is not the final decision, but it is a significant milestone and there would be another vote brought to the council for final approval in late 2016 or early next year,” Smith said.

There have been discussions of extending light rail out to Westgate and the University of Phoenix Stadium area, but that would not happen until years after it comes into Glendale.

Voting in favor of the resolution May 24 were Councilmembers Tolmachoff, Aldama, Sammy Chavira and Bart Turner with Mayor Weiers, Vice Mayor Hugh and Malnar opposed.

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