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.”

  • Bernard Finucane

    I doubt that is what you really thought.

  • Bernard Finucane

    In other words, your remark was just nonsense.

  • cjstephens

    Not sure that I disagree with you overall, but at least in NYC you’ll find that the car-sharing Via service does a lot of business in non-commuting trips (dropping off the kids at an activity, going to doctor’s appointments, etc.). So some people are carpooling for what we would generally consider to be errands.

  • cjstephens

    In other words, it struck too close to home for you to come up with any explanation how I could possibly be right. Do you honestly think that “dark money” conspiracies are to blame for the failure of transit plans across the US?

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    What some tech bros fail to realize is that the only possible outcome of turning our roads into offices and living rooms is more crippling gridlock caused by more and more vehicles hopelessly trying to squeeze onto our congested streets. Self driving vehicles can’t magically increase our street capacity. Buspools are merely a stop-gap measure tech employers started doing because of the absolute utter failure of the Bay Area creating a viable mass transit system.

    If the Bay Area had a mass transit system comparable in convenience and efficiency to any European city, tech bus pools would’ve never been established. Bus pools in the Bay Area are essentially privatized mass transits system only available to wealthier tech employees. Having different mass transit systems based on the wealth of your employer is neither efficient nor desirable. The Bay Area needs a working transit system that is convenient for everybody, not just the employees of wealthy tech companies.

  • Bernard Finucane

    That isn’t the claim

  • Bernard Finucane

    Of course part of the problem is the pattern of land use in America. European cities are more convenient to get around because you don’t have to go so far.

  • Daniel

    and when they succeed they fill up and have to be tracked at more than what it would’ve cost to put in LRT in the first place

  • Daniel

    again, this reminds me of those articles I have saved saying we shouldn’t build rail because autonomous cars will make them obsolete in speed and capacity before the decade is out

    they’re from 2000

  • Brian Peoples

    Daniel – well, we can’t point to a lot of light-rail projects that were a waste of tax dollars (Santa Clara VTA, Honolulu). Maybe they should have waited.

  • Daniel

    the endless tech messianism reminds me of all those Harold Camping followers who took out massive loans in 2011 since they wouldn’t have to repay them after the Rapture

  • Exactly. Though as I speak, we have a BRT system in my city that likely would’ve never been approved if tracked from the beginning.

  • neroden

    The Koch Bothers openly admitted that they were funding attacks on light rail systems. Specifically, they’re attacking light rail systems with excellent transit planning designs. They hired known anti-rail lunatic Randall O’Toole to spread a fake air of “expertise” to their attacks in Nashville.

  • neroden

    Actually, I saw those articles about the amazing autonomous car future in the 1970s. It’s all bullshit.

  • neroden

    Honolulu’s project has been delayed by aggressive anti-rail extremists, but it will be very effective when it’s done. It’s going to be massively cost-effective, and probably profitable. It should have been built *three decades ago* — it was needed then.

    Santa Clara VTA has several good lines, and one incredibly stupidly badly designed line, which happens to be the all-important one to Silicon Valley. If they’d made it go in a straight line it would have been effective.

    You can’t point to any significant number of light-rail projects which was a “waste of tax dollars”.

  • neroden

    Nice fantasy, bro. I’ve been reading that fantasy in Popular Mechanics since the 1950s.

    Pro tip: it’s bullshit. Autonomous cars have to be spaced FARTHER apart than human driven cars, for safety.

  • neroden

    Phoenix decided their roads were overcrowded and they needed light rail. It’s *very* successful. Why are the Koch Brothers fighting it? Probably because they’re in the oil business and light rail doesn’t use oil.

  • neroden

    Brian — you’re delusional. The subways move *many times* more people in Manhattan than the roads do. Last I checked I think it was between 5 and 10 times as much. This is hard data.

    You don’t have a clue about how roads work. Roads stop every few seconds for PEDESTRIANS TO CROSS THE STREET. Continuous flow along the roads is IMPOSSIBLE and ILLEGAL.

    Subways have essentially continuous flow because there’s no cross traffic. The tube is actually roughly 25% full at all times, with the standard high-frequency spacing of trains (which come every 3 – 5 minutes max on the Lexington Avenue Line).

    You just have no idea what you’re talking about.

  • neroden

    Roads are super expensive. Why subsidize roads excessively, instead of subsidizing public transportation a lot less?

  • neroden

    Well, if you really dislike tourist income in Santa Cruz, and you really like to choke the economy, go ahead, oppose the Santa Cruz light rail.

  • neroden

    All trains will be driverless very quickly; the technology was perfected in the 1990s and is in use in Docklands Light Rail (London), Skylink (Vancouver BS) and elsewhere. It’s just waiting for a little union-busting.

    Driverless cars don’t even work yet.

  • neroden

    There’s no reason not to run a tram system at 5-minute headways. Especially if you make it driverless.

  • Daniel

    TBF losing to your own ringer is a pretty fair benchmark for apocalypse-level failure http://www.salon.com/2016/11/09/the-hillary-clinton-campaign-intentionally-created-donald-trump-with-its-pied-piper-strategy/

  • I’m all for rolling buses more frequently, but BRT is usually more along the lines of being “LRT-lite” with more defined stations, dedicated lanes, etc. and all that starts to add up. Realistically, many BRT proposals probably would be better as just more frequent bus service and skip all the other stuff.

  • Ethan

    Roads already exist. If we go the public transportation route we still need roads for buses, delivery trucks, bikes, and scooters. That would need less roads, but what percentage do you think of today’s asphalt? 75%? 66%? 50%? If we replace cars with buses and trains, that needs funding. Care to do some googling to back up your position with budget numbers that the cost of subsidizing public transportation (and adding a lot of new routes and service) is a lot less than maintaining today’s roads?

  • Frank Kotter

    Yes, indeed. Angie and all the rest of us have lost our minds. Except for the fact that it is exactly what is happening and if ‘dark money’ wasn’t successful in steering policy right down to the neighborhood level, the Koch brothers would stop shelling out hundreds of millions of their own money.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/19/climate/koch-brothers-public-transit.html

    These two know all about ROI. It would appear you have to look a bit deeper down than page than talk radio.

  • Frank Kotter
  • Frank Kotter

    ‘The cost to taxpayers is so much less’ if you disregard the subsidies paid for each trip by the tax payer.

  • Frank Kotter

    What is the amount of energy to lift and fly a non-fixed-wing vehicle as you envision this, Bro? Not talking about current limitations, just the physics involved.

    That you guys in tech look around at the world currently dominated by your ideology and still think you provide viable solutions outside of managing data is really a fantastic hubris.

  • Frank Kotter
  • Lauren Bertrand

    This is all starting to seem a little too Alex Jones-y for my tastes.

    I just keep picturing images of Charles Koch and George Soros having a showdown, Warner Brothers style, where each pulls out a successively bigger gun than his adversary (or perhaps an even fatter wallet).

    I doubt it would be as much fun to watch as a Looney Tunes cartoon, though. They’re both very old men.

  • cjstephens

    Did you even read the article?

  • cjstephens

    What’s your point?

  • cjstephens

    Well, yes, I do think you all have lost your minds. Koch Brothers conspiracy theories are a close cousin to Trump Derangement Syndrome. And relying on the NYT as your source? They gave up journalism in 2016.

    You still haven’t addressed my main point: stop blaming a vast right-wing conspiracy for the failure of local governments to adopt sustainable transit plans. Start coming up with better plans. It’s harder work than finger-pointing, but the results will be longer-lasting.

  • cjstephens

    Do you think that the voters of Nashville are that gullible? Or do you just think people are stupid when they don’t vote your way. The Nashville plan had lots of flaws. Next time come up with a better plan instead of looking for boogeymen to blame.

  • Sir Bikesalot

    If you’d actually read his remark instead of falling into the predictable “he’s attacking us” mode of thinking you leftists are known for, you’d realize that he’s actually pro transit and makes a pretty good point.

  • Sir Bikesalot

    He obviously didn’t. He thinks you’re anti transit when it’s obvious to me you’re pro transit. Good points. Ignore him. He’s a leftist and he’s not even slightly interested in anything except his own orthodoxy and the reflection in the mirror. That’s obvious at this point.

  • cjstephens

    Thanks. I am indeed pro-transit. I’ve never owned a car, and I take the subway and bus to work every day. But a lifetime of taking transit has taught me that not all transit projects are good ideas, any more than all highway projects are good ideas. Too many people on Streetsblog expect ideological purity, which sadly weakens any movement’s appeal.

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