Our View: Let's renew Prop. 400 to ensure Arizona's long-term transportation, economic growth

April 29, 2022

Our region has benefited greatly from decades of smart transportation planning and investments, which have helped make the Valley one of the most desirable places to live and work.

Maricopa County’s quality of life and vibrant economy are owed, in part, to our ability to get around this massive metropolis via car, bus or train with relative ease. This can be attributed to the investments voters made in Prop. 300 in 1985, and again with the half-cent sales tax extension of Prop. 400 in 2004.

Prop. 400 is set to expire at the end of 2025, highlighting the need to extend this dedicated revenue source to keep pace with population growth and the critical maintenance of our transportation system.Greg

If you are a Maricopa County resident, you know that Props. 300 and 400 gave us the Loops 101, 202 and 303. You’ve seen hundreds of miles of upgraded freeways, new and improved streets and intersections, new bike and pedestrian facilities and investments to our regional bus and light rail system, Dial-a-Ride and park-and-ride lots.

We would be remiss if we did not mention that Valley Metro’s Scott Smith led the organization (first as interim and then as the full-time CEO) for the past six years, before announcing in 2021 that he intended to retire. In early 2016, community leaders asked Smith to step up for Valley Metro when it was mired in a scandal. 

Restoring trust

Good planning is essential, but plans gather dust without smart, pragmatic leadership and vision. Future transit leaders must be bold, which can be a heavy lift in today’s political environment. 

Working with a talented, hard-working team, Smith restored integrity, trust and transparency at Valley Metro, which completed major infrastructure projects and rail extensions on time and on budget, such as the Northwest Phoenix and Gilbert Road Extensions. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Valley Metro continued its core mission of connecting communities. 

Its dedicated employees worked on the front lines of the public health crisis, providing an essential service that kept our community moving. Bus, rail and paratransit services connected workers to hospitals, pharmacies, grocery stores and other critical jobs.

Valley Metro has adapted to 21st century challenges. Over the past few years, the agency launched the Respect the Ride campaign, increased security and safety measures, unveiled a new, real-time app, created customer experience coordinators and guided the system through the public-health crisis, which underscored how transit workers are essential to keeping our economy moving.

And mass transit continues to drive the economy. Since opening the system more than a decade ago, our 28-mile light rail has attracted $16 billion in public- and private-sector investment and supported more than 35,000 jobs along its route.

It has fueled an urban rebirth in the downtowns of Phoenix and Mesa with new housing, jobs, restaurants and retail. The rail connection between ASU’s downtown Phoenix and Tempe campus has been a huge success, and we expect that success to transfer to Mesa with its new campus opening up.  

Working on the future

Smith’s days as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors helped Valley Metro successfully partner with federal transportation officials on both sides of the aisle to secure major investments and grants for the Tempe Streetcar, which is opening this spring, the South Central Extension/Downtown Hub and the Northwest Extension Phase II. It’s worth noting that this region has secured more than $1 billion in federal funds thanks to those strong relationships along with Valley Metro’s track-record of success.

We mention this because the future of our transportation system will rely on a new and dynamic leader as Smith transitions into private life, following what was supposed to be an “interim,” temporary leadership post.