Sun Cities residents had a chance to hear what opportunities might exist for public transit in the area Sept. 10 during a digital meeting, but the information provided painted a bleak picture.
Valley Metro officials hosted the meeting with the opportunity for residents to participate. However, for those unble to tune in, the meeting was recorded and can be viewed on the Valley Metro website, valleymetro.org.
The digital gathering replaced an in-person meeting scheduled in Sun City West in March. But that meeting was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic when Recreation Centers of Sun City West facilities were closed to the public.
Valley Metro and the Maricopa Association of Governments partnered in December 2018 to explore the transportation needs of unincorporated communities of Sun City and Sun City West. The Northwest Valley Sun Cities Transportation Study was tasked with determining demand for Sun Cities-area transit services and identifying both service concepts and funding strategies that meet the community’s unique needs.
Because funding is unavailable through Proposition 400 funds, adding services to help Sun Cities residents will not happen in the foreseeable future.
“The most consistent theme of this meeting was ‘no money for transit,’ and that needs to change,” Bonnie Boyce-Wilson, Northwest Valley Connect board member, stated in an email. “As the community considers voting on the extension of Proposition 400, we must make sure the MAG Regional Council hears the need to increase the percentage of Proposition 400 money that is dedicated to transit.”
Sharon Hettick, another NVC board member, stated in an email the Sept. 10 presentation was well done and complete but brushed over the underlying problem. Both Valley Metro and MAG officials said no funding is available because all Proposition 400 monies already are allocated through 2025, she added. They also said that the state is behind in providing transit services.
“What wasn’t said was that there has not ever been projects planned in the unincorporated areas of the Northwest Valley using Proposition 400 monies,” she stated. “Since there is not a transit planner in Maricopa County offices and matching funding comes only from cities, all unincorporated areas in Maricopa County are eliminated from having planned transit services.”
MAG is responsible for planning for transit. The agency’s Transportation Planning Committee is made up of city mayors or council members, one Maricopa County supervisor and some members of the general public.
“This committee has changed the rules in the past — when the recession happened the rules were changed; all 26 projects intended for the West Valley were also canceled,” Ms. Hettick stated. “The TPC could agree to allow plans to be drawn and Proposition 400 funding be used for unincorporated areas.”
She added those plans don’t have to be only regional transit but any type of transit, such as circulators, could be installed.
Kathy Chandler, NVC executive director, is frustrated that multiple studies — this one and another done in 2013 — clearly show a need and desire for public transit in the Sun Cities, but the answer is always the same — no money. She believes the Sun Cities are at a disadvantage because they are unincorporated county areas and the county does not handle transit issues.
“Now more than ever we need to consider and stand up for those in need,” Ms. Chandler stated.
Valley Metro continues to seek public input and has a new survey officials are encouraging residents to fill out. Visit valleymetro.org/northwestvalley, email email@example.com or call 602-322-4479.
“If you live in the Sun Cities areas, please fill out the survey, make a comment and be heard,” Ms. Boyce-Wilson stated. “Continuing public input regarding transit needs is important. We are beginning to be heard.”
She also believes residents can advocate with state legislators to change the mandate so Maricopa County supervisors have responsibility and funding for transit in unincorporated areas.
One of several options studied by Valley Metro and MAG was a neighborhood circulator route that used 99th Avenue, Bell Road and Grand Avenue to serve Sun City riders and R.H. Johnson Boulevard in Sun City West. The route, as described on maps, created a giant circle through major roadways in the communities. But it did not include additional routes within the two communities.
The circulator included four options, all of which connect riders to the regional transit network at Arrowhead Towne Center, 7700 Arrowhead Towne Center in Glendale, ranging in cost from $822,000 to $1.31 million for the annual operations and $800,000-$960,000 for the capital costs.
The study also considered extending existing Valley Metro bus routes 138, along Thunderbird Boulevard, and 170, along Bell Road. The extensions would include more frequent intervals for stops and lengthening the routes to the west. The cost estimates for those options are $600,000 for the capital improvements and $724,434 for annual operations.
Proposition 400 will expire in 2025. Valley Metro officials said Sun Cities residents could work with county planners and Maricopa Association of Governments officials to include transit projects in the next transportation plan.
Other options include forming a special taxing district or establishing a dedicated portion of their association fees to fund transit projects, according to Valley Metro officials.
Ms. Chandler offered three other options for Sun Cities residents to pursue. The first would be to incorporate the communities, which has been attempted in the past and failed significantly. She also said residents could push to legislate the county to have a transit planner and fund the planner, or change the process to be a one transit authority area instead of each city or community on their own.
Sun Cities residents have access to Paratransit, formerly called Dial-A-Ride, but that option is only available to those certified as disabled according to the Americans with Disabilities Act. Another limitation to bus travel to those certified as disabled is the rider has to live within three-quarters of a mile of a fixed bus route. The only such routes are Valley Metro’s 106, along Peoria Avenue, and 138, along Thunderbird Boulevard. There are no Valley Metro bus routes in Sun City West.