According to Valley Metro's own projections, the light rail project proposed by the Maricopa Association of Governments will be inefficient in its use of public resources, ineffective at reducing traffic congestion and pollution, and unfair to county taxpayers. The county plans to spend $2.2 billion on light rail, an amount equivalent to one-third of the state's entire general fund budget. If legislators do not re-examine the county's numbers, they may make a mistake of gigantic proportions.
This policy brief highlights findings from a forthcoming Goldwater Institute study in which I examine various transportation options for the Phoenix metro area. The full study will be released January 8, 2004, at a policy forum co-sponsored by the Goldwater Institute and the East Valley Tribune.
Nationwide, the average cost of light rail per passenger-mile is approximately $1.50, almost double the average cost of bus transit per passenger-mile, and five times the average cost of automobile transportation per vehicle-mile. Worst of all, light rail would do almost nothing to relieve traffic congestion. Because 80 percent of new light rail passengers in Maricopa County would be former bus passengers, light rail would remove less than one car in 1,000 from traffic. Indeed, light rail would account for only 0.2 percent of the person-miles of travel in the region over the next 20 years.
The association's light rail project is also highly unbalanced from the point of view of geographic equity. Eighty percent of the proposed 57-mile light rail system will be within the borders of Phoenix, and only four of the 25 jurisdictions within Maricopa County will see any light rail service. But taxpayers in every corner of the county will pay for it. In terms of light rail service, taxpayers in those jurisdictions will get a zero rate of return on the money they pay.