Phoenix Voters Save Light Rail

Voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot proposition Tuesday that would have curtailed light rail expansion in the nation's fifth largest city.

Phoenix voters rejected a ballot proposition that would have curtailed light rail expansion in the future.
Phoenix voters rejected a ballot proposition that would have curtailed light rail expansion in the future.

Voters in Phoenix have soundly rejected a proposal that would have halted the expansion of the city’s light rail system — a proposition that had the backing of dark money linked to the notorious anti-transit Koch brothers.

In a 62-to-38 percent vote, residents turned aside Proposition 105, which would have redirected a previously passed tax away from light rail towards other transportation improvements. It would also have required “terminating all construction, development, extension, and expansion of” light rail.

The vote was 107,370 against Prop 105 to 64,666 in favor. A second ballot proposition that would have capped spending on city services until its pension debts are reduced was defeated by a two-to-one margin.

The effort to end light rail in Phoenix was part of the legacy of the petroleum tycoon and conservative radical Charles Koch and his late brother David, who funded grassroots activist campaigns to kill transit projects in cities around the country.

They succeeded in Nashville last year and they almost did again in Phoenix where they backed a group of Arizona business owners and developers who petitioned to get a proposition on the ballot that would strike down the city’s South Central light rail expansion.

Turnout for the special election was a record high and surpassed a prior ballot initiative four years ago when about 21 percent of Phoenix voters went to the polls and approved a tax increase that would fund light rail projects.

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, who was elected five months ago, argued the rail system would sacrifice $600 million in federal funding if the proposition passed. Gallego thanked a slew of union leaders, activists, business leaders, activists, and Council members Debra Stark and Laura Pastor for the ballot victory Tuesday night.

“Light rail expansion is not stopping— not today, not tomorrow, not ever,” she tweeted. “We have and will continue to protect our rail because this is not about one route, this is about equity for our entire community.”

Ridership on Phoenix’s light rail system has risen steadily since it launched a decade ago. The number of annual trips rose from 12.7 million in 2009 to 16.5 million in 2017, although ridership dipped 4.4 percent to 15.8 million last year.

The $1-billion project would extend the rail line from downtown five miles down Central Avenue to Baseline Road in South Phoenix. Construction on the line is expected to begin in 2020 and service will start by 2023.

14 thoughts on Phoenix Voters Save Light Rail

  1. Congratulations to the people of the City of Phoenix & County of Maricopa! This is great news! You’ve truly slain Goliath!

  2. Light rail is only as good as the service and reach it provides. I was just in Phoenix and Scottsdale. Most residents I spoke with are against light rail expansion. I think the anti-transit sentiment has a lot to do with “newer” cities that have exploded in population and growth, but are traditionally car oriented. Transit may have been saved in Phoenix, but Nashville is doomed unless it adopts a mass transit system.

  3. that’s the central problem with fighting astroturf/BANANA forces–you can win every time, but they only have to win once …

  4. Were any moneyed people from outside Phoenix, labor unions, or contractors helping finance the “NO” side. Is only money that is used to promote a view contrary to that held by one or one’s organization “dark” money? Will the afflicted businesses on South Central Avenue be compensated for their losses. I suspect the result could have been different if the balloting had been limited to blocking the South Central Avenue line and limited to those within a mile of the line and business owners on the line.

  5. #11, You can always get the result you want by choosing your voters. But that’s not Democracy.

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