Surprise Attack on Phoenix Light Rail Expansion Reeks of Koch Brother Interference

Photo:  Nick Bastion/Flickr
Photo: Nick Bastion/Flickr

Opponents of a six-mile light rail expansion will try to convince the Phoenix City Council to delay the project — a move that supporters say would likely kill it.

The $700 million project was included in a 2015 ballot measure known as Prop 104, which passed with 55 percent of the vote. It would connect South Phoenix, a low-income, primarily black and Latino area, to downtown, and neighborhood residents told Arizona PBS last year that they hope the project reduces segregation. The project was one of seven identified by U.S. DOT under the Obama administration’s “Ladders to Opportunity” program.

The opposition group calls itself “Four Lanes or No Train,” referring to the two car lanes that will be replaced by light rail on Central Avenue. Its leaders have been organizing protests and circulating petitions against the project.

U.S. Representative Ruben Gallego warned on Twitter today that the upcoming council vote could pose an existential threat to the project, calling the appeals for delay a “backdoor to kill light rail.” He also linked the opposition to the Koch Brothers, whose efforts to impede transit projects around the country were highlighted by the New York Times yesterday.

The agency building the project, Valley Metro, concurs. “If FTA deadlines aren’t met, the project won’t receive FTA funds under the current grant cycle (approximately $500 million, nearly 50% of the project’s funding), which will place the project’s funding at significant risk,” the agency said in a statement.

Local press has been covering the light rail opposition as a grassroots campaign. But popular opinion was already recorded during the vote on Prop 104, which was supported by about 75 percent of people living along the proposed light rail route, according to Valley Metro. Almost a third of the area’s residents do not own a car.

While the group’s funding is opaque, connections to the Koch Brothers and dark money groups can be discerned.

The Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity unsuccessfully opposed Prop 104 in 2015 and has been lobbying the statehouse against other local transportation funding measures.

City Council Member Sal DiCiccio, a major light rail opponent, is aligned with Americans for Prosperity.

The Arizona Free Enterprise Club, a dark money organization known for electing anti-solar candidates, is cheering on the light rail opposition.

Gallego says that if the City Council doesn’t stand firm, oSouth Phoenix could miss out on opportunity once again.

“Four in ten residents of the south-central light rail corridor live at or below the federal poverty line,” Gallego said in a press release. “More than anything else, this project is about giving them a better shot at the American Dream. For their sake and for Phoenix’s future, the city council must allow the south-central light rail extension to move forward as planned.”


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