Phoenix will vote Tuesday on a light rail system expansion. It faces opposition from business owners backed by activists affiliated with the Koch network
For years, Phoenixs public transportation plans have included a network of light rail lines connecting downtown to the suburbs, cutting air pollution and carbon emissions in a city dubbed the least sustainable in the US.
But as the city prepares to vote Tuesday on an expansion of its light rail system into a poorer, and more black and Hispanic, part of the city, the train is facing opposition from a group of business owners who fear they will lose customers. And they are receiving help from someeye-catching backers: activists affiliated with the Koch conservative network.
According to the language of the referendum, which the director of a Koch-funded political organization helped draft, not only will a vote against the expansion result in the cancellation of this particular line. It will also prohibit all future light rail construction in the city.
Obviously were concerned with the impacts of the construction, but Ive never seen this kind of outside group come in and write an initiative, said Kate Gallego, the Phoenix mayor.
Koch brother groups have tried to derail public transit plans in other cities around the country, from Little Rock, Arkansas and central Utah, to Nashville, Tennessee and south-east Michigan. They have frequently called such projects wasteful spending. The Koch organization is also heavily invested in fossil fuels.
Phoenix is the nations fastest-growing city, according to the most recent US Census figures, but its also been named the least sustainable, because of drought, the heat island effect caused by sprawling concrete infrastructure, and continued growth. And a 2018 study found the city is one of the five worst metropolitan areas in the country for air quality, with degraded air quality for nearly one-third of the year.
Light rail systems like Phoenixs offer public transportation options that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The first 20-mile stretch of light rail began operating in 2010, coinciding with a revitalization of the downtown area.
Gallego said she has been a champion of light rail since her time as a city council member: I really want a city that invests in sustainable transportation.