A conservative group on Friday lambasted a plan to speed light-rail construction and expand its reach.
METRO Rail officials say they could use $1.7 billion to accelerate construction on the 57 miles of planned track and add 23 miles of new routes.
But critics say extra funding shouldn’t be discussed until the trains start rolling and data can be collected.
“I think by all accounts, it’s too soon,” said Steve Voeller, president of the Free Enterprise Club, an organization advocating limited government and fiscal restraint. “It’s not even open yet.”
Maricopa County voters in 2004 approved Proposition 400, a half-cent transportation sales tax. It included funding for some of the planned light-rail route and required a performance audit before expanding the system.
“Clearly, you can’t have a performance measure met or even reviewed before you’ve had some usage,” Voeller said.
The first rail leg opens in December 2008 on a 20-mile route through Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa. Additional routes are now in the works.
Voeller said light-rail funds are misdirected, especially as the state Legislature scrambles to fund highway construction.
“We do believe light rail is a waste,” Voeller said. “That money could’ve been used for roads and freeways.”
METRO officials say criticism is premature because they have not made a funding request. The $1.7 billion figure represented a hypothetical plan from “a world where there are no boundaries on financing,” said Marty McNeil, a METRO spokeswoman.
The plan is part of a larger study of Arizona’s long-term transportation needs, McNeil said. It will be included with data from other agencies that Gov. Janet Napolitano and the Arizona Department of Transportation will winnow down to a statewide transportation plan.
“We submitted some information on what light rail could possibly need, or what the people in this area might benefit from,” McNeil said.