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March 29, 2010

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I still remember that morning. Eugene Pulliam wrote a front-page editorial arguing against the Papago Freeway that was coming up for a vote. I believe he cited freeway-free Santa Barbara, where he lived part-time, as a beautiful counterexample to LA. Pulliam's hardboiled conservatism had just enough heart to know what would happen. The year was 1973 and Phoenix still had enough soul to agree.

It's impossible to imagine a conservative today taking that kind of stand. Today the idolization of the free market is so complete that any impediment to Growth becomes a de facto evil. The old-guard conservatives still had some other values to consider since Republicanism hadn't been completely Reaganized. But the tide was already turning. Soon, anti-environmentalism would be a major conservative cause.

The Moreland Corridor had been cleared by the mid-60s. Historic preservation wasn't on the radar screen here then, so there were no protests that I can recall. The houses were some of the grandest in central Phoenix but they were old and devalued in an era still high on modernism.

By the 80s with I-10 back on track, Jack Williams and Paul Fannin made sure Kenilworth was spared. The corridor had to dip a bit south to compensate and took out some blocks of Latham. Then the design widened a bit more and crucial blocks of Culver fell. By this time, Phoenix did have some preservation consciousness and there were some painful moments as we watched some lovely period houses fall.

I was there when I-10 was finally completed in July of 1990. There was a celebration in the tunnel under Deck Park but a thunderstorm broke out and ended the festivities early. I bicycled home, water up to my ankles, down an old concrete street now vanished in the flood.

soleri, I think your distinction between Pulliam and typical conservatives is a noteworthy one that also invokes Mr. Talton's previous writing about the conservative culture of Phoenix's past, versus that of today. What is conservative about a 100% government subsidized freeway plan with limited funding available from its users, via gas taxes. This to me seems like the opposite of conservatism -- even more so than subsidized commuter rail that at least has the potential to turn a profit someday.

Because of past growth in the Phoenix area, I believe that we should finish building out the current regional freeway plan (as I remain dumbfounded about how certain projects on the fringes get prioritized over other ones) -- and yes, I know that this is an unpopular view here. But then I also believe that it's time to cut back on these incredibly costly plans to move people across our vast metropolis and focus on a more sustainable model for the future.

Light rail should have spurs to the south and northwest from downtown Phoenix, as well as into downtown Scottsdale and perhaps into the Biltmore corridor, among other areas that would serve our current population and encourage better infill opportunities. Then, there should be a commuter rail line connecting Phoenix to Tucson, via Casa Grande, much like Greyhound's local route (which I actually thought was quite pleasant when I used it in college). But I'm less sure about the plans for rail headed northward out of Phoenix, since most drawings indicate that it would merely skirt Prescott to the west before heading into less developed areas in Chino Valley, while skipping the already growing Prescott Valley and Verde/Cottonwood areas.... but I digress.

Having finally seen the direct benefits to riders and regional redevelopment efforts from our newly functioning light rail system, I'd think that we have plenty of room for common sense to steer a new regional plan. No?

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