Scottsdale City Council candidates talk light rail

Is Scottsdale poised to renew discussions about light rail?

At a recent forum, several candidates for Scottsdale City Council expressed their views, which ranged from rejecting light rail, to having a dialogue and even building a connection along Loop 101.

The April 30 forum featured nine candidates who have filed papers to seek three seats on the City Council. They still need to turn in enough valid signatures by Wednesday, May 28, to make it on the primary ballot.

Scottsdale so far has declined to join the Valley’s light-rail system or even consider the possibility. Currently, trains run from west Mesa through Tempe and into central Phoenix. Work is underway in Mesa to extend the line farther east through that city’s downtown, and longer-range plans are in place to extend the line in the West Valley from Phoenix into Glendale.

MORE: Light rail still drawing battle lines in Scottsdale

In Scottsdale, opponents have said light-rail construction along Scottsdale Road, where many have assumed light rail would be built, would be devastating to businesses, as well as very costly.

Proponents say a discussion is needed because Scottsdale cannot remain an island and the city needs better connectivity with its neighbors.

“We’re making a huge mistake. We need to connect to the regional transportation system,” said Linda Milhaven, a Scottsdale councilwoman who is seeking re-election. “If we decided in this community today that we want to connect, it will be 20 years before we see light rail.”

Other announced candidates are business owner Michael Auerbach, business owner Bill Crawford, non-profit executive Cindy Hill, computer-company treasurer Kathy Littlefield, former Scottsdale Unified School District board President Jennifer Petersen, businessman and attorney Dennis Robbins, former Scottsdale Treasurer David Smith and merchandiser Gregory Weisman.

Littlefield said she stands firmly against light rail.

“It is expensive,” she said. “It is old technology from the 19th century and it doesn’t meet what Scottsdale citizens have said they want in their transportation lines. It will destroy the street it is on, which is a major artery in Scottsdale.”

Crawford and Hill expressed support for light rail along Loop 101, which would link the city but bypass Scottsdale Road.

Crawford said it would serve Scottsdale as well as its neighbor, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, which has many business enterprises including two casinos and the Salt River Fields at Talking Stick stadium complex along Loop 101.

“Scottsdale is a long and narrow corridor and if we are to get light rail, light rail should go up the 101 corridor where both the Indian nation and Scottsdale can benefit from it,” Crawford said.

Other candidates said they are waiting for a more definitive proposal or study on light rail.

“We’ll all look at it and try to evaluate the pros and cons,” Smith said. Though Smith acknowledged light rail is expensive, he said, “That’s not to say we shouldn’t do it.”

“The question will revolve around — what does it do for the Scottsdale citizen?”

Milhaven said the city’s tourism economic-development master plans “have told us we are woefully behind and we need these connections in the future.” The city needs to decide what options to consider, such as light rail, streetcars and other forms of transportation, she said.

Petersen agreed connectivity is important. But while a dialogue is needed on light rail, “it’s a little premature,” she said. In the short term, Scottsdale “can continue to strengthen its bus system that’s already in place,” she said.

Auerbach agreed the bus-transportation system can be improved with more express routes and shorter lengths between stops.

Weisman said he was against light rail for Phoenix and Tempe.

Robbins, an incumbent, said he was on the Scottsdale City Council from 1996 to 2000, when Scottsdale was in a study group on light rail with Tempe and Phoenix.

“We put our vote to the citizens in 1998 and it failed 2 to 1,” he said. “I’m still stinging from that. However, I understand the economic-development needs and benefits of light rail.”

In the interim, Robbins said the city needs to make sure its transit system is modernized.

“A lot of times we don’t have the frequency, so we’ll bring our passengers up to our border once an hour and Tempe comes every 15 minutes. We need to improve that. We also need to have better connections to the current light rail,” he said.

A future bus route, known as Link, will connect riders in downtown Scottsdale directly to a light-rail station in Tempe. The service often is “a precursor to light-rail service, building ridership demand in the corridor where it travels,” Valley Metro spokeswoman Susan Tierney said. It is scheduled to begin service by April 2016 along Scottsdale/Rural roads between Camelback Road and University Drive in Tempe.

Light rail around the Valley

Article source: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/scottsdale/2014/05/06/scottsdale-candidates-talk-light-rail/8732171/