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Infrastructure

Phoenix Voters Approve $31.7B Transportation Plan

DALLAS — Phoenix voters have approved a $31.7 billion, 35-year transportation plan supported by an increased and extended special city sales tax that will fund a tripling of Valley Metro's light rail system along with more buses and city street upgrades.

Unofficial results of more than 70% of the vote on Tuesday counted show the Transportation 2050 plan passed with 55% in favor. The city clerk's office said a final, official tally will not be available until Friday.

The city's transportation sales tax, which was first approved by voters in 2000 to build the first 20 miles of the light rail system, will go to 0.7% from the current 0.4% on Jan. 1 and stay on the books through 2050. Transactions over $10,000 are exempt from the transportation sales tax.

The special sales tax would have expired in 2020 without the extension. The city's sales tax will total 8.6% when the increase goes into effect.

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, who last year appointed the committee that recommended the transportation plan and is a champion of the proposal, also won re-election to a second term with 65% of the total votes cast according to the early returns.

Stanton said approval of the multiyear program, which was on the ballot as Proposition 104, will result in increased mobility in the city and spur transit-oriented developments along the extended light rail lines.

"This is a great night for the future of the city of Phoenix," he said at Tuesday's victory celebration.

The city council pared the sales tax hike from a proposed 0.73% increase to the final 0.7% proposition in March when it put the transportation plan on the August ballot.

The higher sales tax is expected to generate $17.3 billion through 2050 for transportation. The existing tax rate would have brought in $9.9 billion if it had been extended to 2050 instead of expiring as scheduled at the end of 2020, city officials said.

Transit fares will bring in $5.1 billion, with the remaining funding expected to come from Federal Transit Administration grants, regional transportation funds, and bond proceeds.

Phoenix has $1.5 billion of outstanding general obligation bonds rated Aa1 by Moody's Investors Service and AA-plus by Standard & Poor's. Outlooks are stable.

The 35-year transportation plan includes $2.9 billion for debt service and a reserve fund.

Bus and bus rapid transit will get $17.5 billion from the voter-approved program, with $11.9 billion dedicated to maintaining the current level of service and $1.9 billion allocated to new and extended bus routes.

The $8.9 billion for rail projects includes $6.7 billion for 42 miles of new line and $2.2 billion for upkeep of the current 20-mile. The extended system will serve commercial and residential areas as well as Grand Canyon University.

Phoenix will devote $2.4 billion from the 35-year program to city streets. Major street and bridge projects are funded at $280 million. Other work will include 1,150 miles of bike lanes and 170 miles of new sidewalk.

Meanwhile, in Arizona's neighbor to the west, a special California Senate panel studying transportation funding options adopted a plan on Aug. 18 that would add 12 cents to the state's current state gasoline tax of 42 cents per gallon.

State Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, who proposed the gas tax increase, said the higher tax would generate an additional $4 billion a year for transportation projects. The adopted plan would also add $35 to the cost of annual vehicle registration fees and levy a new tax on electric vehicles of $100 per year.

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