Initiative focuses on roads, falls short - again - on transit and wildlife
Phoenix, AZ - Today, the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon (Arizona) Chapter announced its opposition to the TIME transportation initiative, which will impose an additional one cent sales tax on Arizonans for 30 years. A majority of the $42 billion projected to be generated by this tax will be dedicated to roads.
"We are disappointed that the proposal relies heavily on a large sales tax increase for this road-based program, includes a relatively small percentage for transit measures, and an even smaller percentage for wildlife programs," said Jim Vaaler, Chairperson of the Grand Canyon Chapter. "The exclusion of development impact fees in the package is also discouraging - the Sierra Club has long supported development paying its way in Arizona."
Fifty-five percent of the dollars in the initiative are targeted to state highways, most of which will be focused on Maricopa and Pima counties. With most of Arizona's transportation dollars - all of the state gas tax, most of the federal highway dollars, and a majority of the sales tax dollars for transportation in Pima and Maricopa counties - already going to fund roads, this measure falls far short of the mark in giving us a more balanced transportation system. The term of 30 years virtually ensures that it will be outdated as Arizona must adjust to rising transportation and energy costs, as well as air quality needs.
"Although the initiative prides itself on containing only one new highway, it is a bad one; extending the freeway portion of 89A south, from where it currently ends, to a junction with SR 69 in Dewey," said Tom Slaback, Chair of the Sierra Club's Yavapai (Prescott-area) Group. "Yavapai County may then take advantage of the percentage set aside for local road projects to construct a new road north through Prescott Valley and Chino Valley joining Highway 89 in Paulden. This will not only subsidize more sprawl in an area already fighting over diminishing ground water, but will also fragment one of the last, best Pronghorn grasslands."
Only 18 percent of the dollars in the proposed initiative are dedicated to transit including commuter rail and regional rail. The Sierra Club strongly supports investing in these rail programs including a passenger rail line between Phoenix and Tucson, but the limited amount and the continued focus of the dollars on roads makes it impossible to support this proposal.
"Rising gas prices are forcing people out of their cars. Investing heavily in public transportation is the responsible thing to do," said Sean Sullivan, Co-Chair of the Sierra Club's Rincon (southern Arizona) Group. "It is time to plan responsibly for the future and build up our public transportation system in Arizona. Public transit should be the focus of any transportation initiative rather than an afterthought."
"Flagstaff is trying to transform itself to a sustainable community for people rather than cars," said Norm Wallen of the Sierra Club's Plateau Group in Flagstaff. "This car-focused plan will be obsolete before it is implemented."
The TIME measure contains provisions for building more roads through "Public Private Partnerships" as well, which usually means a toll road. This could facilitate building roads that would not otherwise be constructed and further fragment wildlife habitat and promote suburban sprawl.
The proposed initiative includes a small percentage of funding to address fragmented wildlife habitat including wildlife corridors and other programs for limiting the detrimental impact of roads and freeways to wildlife, vegetation, watersheds, and more. Significant dollars should be set aside for these programs and a real assessment of the need, including looking at redesigning current roads and going back and establishing the linkages that were lost in previous transportation projects should be part of this proposal.
Conservation Outreach Director
Sierra Club - Grand Canyon Chapter
202 E. McDowell Rd, Suite 277
Phoenix, AZ 85004
Phone (602) 253-8633
Fax (602) 258-6533
WAY TO GO
I get many interesting and sometimes obscure topic suggestions from readers, but it was the obvious one I received recently that gave me pause. As it showed, while I'd been chasing down exotic ways for people to make a difference, I'd ignored one of the best of all -- and for no better reason than it's such a hard sell.
The proposed topic, from a commuter rail conductor in the Boston area, is using public transit. With gas prices what they are today, I'm thinking the sell might just have gotten easier.
I know that many people turn their noses up at the idea of using public transit. While yes, it's true, some places have inadequate (or non-existent) service, many metropolitan regions have rather fine systems these days, particularly since federal policy changed to make financing easier. The fact that they're still not all they could be doesn't mean they aren't a very good option, especially for the daily commute. After all, driving to work on congested roads is no picnic. Nor is it particularly economical.
Many people complain that public transit is inconvenient. This makes sense when service is infrequent, vehicles are overcrowded or multiple transfers are necessary. However, the complaint is raised even when these conditions don't apply, which leads me to suspect that the real impediment is often the reluctance to do something new.
I have this reluctance myself. When I had to visit a hospital in an unfamiliar part of town recently, my first thought was to take the car, despite the fact that I rely almost exclusively on the subway for daily travel. Even after learning that the subway would let me off close by, I hesitated, still concerned about chimerical problems -- that I wouldn't know which way to walk when I got out or that the neighborhood would be dangerous. In the end, my better sense prevailed, and I had a quick and pleasant trip without incident. The only real hurdle turned out to be mental.
Public transit accounts for just over 1 percent of miles traveled in the United States, compared to 10 percent in Europe. The benefits of following in Europe's footsteps include:
- Cleaner air - More than 125 million Americans live in areas with unacceptable, unhealthy levels of air pollution, 50 percent of which is due to cars and trucks. Public transit is far less polluting than travel by private vehicles, producing 95 percent less carbon monoxide, 90 percent fewer volatile organic compounds and about 45 percent less nitrogen oxide, per passenger mile.
- Lower global warming gas emissions - Our carbon dioxide emissions are the highest in the world, and cars and light trucks account for 20 percent of our total. Public transit emits half as much per mile traveled as cars.
- Greater energy independence - It takes half the energy on average in the United States to transport a person over a given distance by public transit as private vehicle. If we utilized our transit better the savings would be even more impressive. A full bus is six times more fuel-efficient than a single-occupant car, and a full train, 15 times more.
- Better water quality - Accommodating our large and growing number of cars requires ever more roads, bridges and parking lots. Runoff from all those impervious surfaces pollutes our lakes, rivers and coastal waters.
- Less habitat destruction - The less construction we do to support our car culture, the less habitat we destroy.
- Saved lives - There are far fewer accidents, injuries and deaths associated with public transportation than private cars. For instance, according to the National Safety Council, it is 170 times safer to travel by bus than car.
- Less roadkill - No one really knows how many animals are killed on highways each year, but it is thought to number in the millions. Fewer cars on the road means fewer deaths.
There aren't many steps you can take that will do as much good for the environment. And you might find other, personal benefits as well -- such as better health from the short walk to the bus stop or train and a greater connection with your community. In Manhattan, where I live, even the rich take the subway (including, famously, our billionaire mayor, Mike Bloomberg) simply because it's the fastest way to get to work.
- Sheryl Eisenberg
Sheryl Eisenberg, a long-time advisor to NRDC, posts a new This Green Life every month. Sheryl makes her home in Tribeca (NYC), where-along with her children, Sophie and Gabby, and husband, Peter-she tries to put her environmental principles into practice. No fooling.
Sheryl Eisenberg is also a web developer and writer. With her firm, Mixit Productions (http://www.mixitproductions.com), she brought NRDC online in 1996, designed NRDC's first websites, and continues to develop special web features for NRDC. She created and, for several years, wrote the Union of Concerned Scientists' green living column, Greentips, and has designed and contributed content to many nonprofit sites.
© 2005 Natural Resources Defense Council
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