Report: 21st Century Transportation for Arizona

Connecting Phoenix and Tucson

The Benefits of Intercity Rail in the Sun Corridor
Released by: Arizona PIRG Education Fund

Over the past few decades, explosive population growth in Phoenix and Tucson has led the two cities to grow increasingly interconnected, socially and economically. It has also resulted in increasing traffic congestion problems, particularly on Interstate 10, which connects the two cities. Phoenix, Tucson, and the cities between them along I-10 compose Arizona’s “Sun Corridor”—the fastest-growing region in the state. With this growth expected to continue in years to come, Arizonans face a pressing need for improved transportation options. Passenger rail between Phoenix and Tucson can help meet the future transportation needs of the Sun Corridor.

Intercity rail between Phoenix and Tucson will reduce pollution, save time, and play an important role in building and sustaining a strong economy for the region, all while giving Arizonans appealing new transportation choices.

Arizona is ready for intercity rail.

  • Arizona’s population has nearly doubled over the last 25 years, straining the state’s transportation infrastructure, particularly in the fast-growing Phoenix-Tucson “Sun Corridor.”
  • Arizonans are ready for new transportation options, including intercity rail. Rising gasoline prices have led Arizonans to reduce their driving and to seek out new options for getting around. Arizonans drove 1,000 miles less per capita in 2010 than they did in 2006—a drop of about 11 percent.
  • The State of Arizona has studied the potential for intercity rail service between Phoenix and Tucson for more than three decades and has recently taken the first key steps to make passenger rail a reality. The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) completed Arizona’s first State Rail Plan, which includes a plan for implementing intercity passenger rail throughout the state, and the State Transportation Board unanimously accepted the plan in March 2011. One of the key steps to implementing intercity rail in Arizona is currently underway as ADOT conducts the first rail Environmental Impact Statement, which will be completed in 2014.

Intercity rail will require significant public investment, but will also deliver substantial benefits for the state’s economy and quality of life, as evidenced by other western states that have built intercity and commuter rail lines.

Economic benefits—By improving interconnectivity between Phoenix and Tucson, intercity rail will make the Sun Corridor a more attractive place for both employers and workers.

  • Businesses benefit from rail investments that improve travel in the Phoenix-Tucson corridor through expanded labor market access and the benefits of “agglomeration economies”—that is, an expansion in the number of people who can easily interact with one another in a regional economy.
  • Rail service will help ensure that the Phoenix-Tucson area remains attractive to young people, who increasingly prefer alternatives to driving. From 2001 to 2009, the average annual number of vehicle miles traveled by young people (16 to 34-year-olds) decreased by 23 percent nationally.
  • Rail will increase mobility for seniors and people with disabilities who are unable or do not wish to make the drive between the two cities.
  • Intercity rail creates more jobs during construction than highways. By investing in intercity rail, Arizona can create at least 30,000 additional job-years of employment. Those workers will then spend their wages in Arizona’s economy, and the tax revenue they provide will further offset the cost of the public investment in the rail line.
  • Passenger rail would also boost local economies, including local hospitality and tourism industries, by attracting visitors with the prospect of hassle-free travel between cultural centers and sporting and other events within the Sun Corridor. It would also increase property values and spur new residential and commercial development around stations.

Benefits for train riders—Intercity rail will provide significant benefits for its riders, who will help pay for its operation through fares.

  • Intercity rail riders can expect to save approximately $750 million (present value) over 30 years in reduced costs for gasoline, repairs, and other operating costs for private vehicles. In addition, the availability of rail service will provide a hedge against further spikes in gasoline prices—in a high oil price scenario, consumers could save an additional $58 million during that time period.
  • Train riders will also save approximately $150 million worth of economically productive time over 30 years—both as a result of less time spent sitting in traffic and the potential to use time spent on the train working, studying, or engaging in other activities that are difficult or dangerous to perform while driving.

Benefits for drivers—Even Arizonans who rarely or never set foot on an intercity rail train will experience significant benefits from the rail line.

  • Arizona drivers will save valuable, productive time by avoiding peak-period traffic congestion as a result of intercity rail.
  • Even infrequent riders of intercity rail will benefit from its availability as a backup transportation option when travel on I-10 is impeded by weather, accidents or construction; when a car is suddenly and unexpectedly unavailable (for example, due to mechanical difficulty); or for special events such as sports events, concerts or festivals when parking and traffic congestion are of particular concern.

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