By Thelda Williams
A strong, robust transit and transportation infrastructure means a higher quality of life for Arizonans and all Americans. Public transportation powers economic growth and job creation while reducing carbon emissions, improving air quality, and lessening our overall environmental impact.
That is what makes both the Senate-passed Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the House-drafted Build Back Better Act so critical to the future of our city, our state, and our country. Taken together, these bills will spur the kinds of investments we need to modernize our national infrastructure—including public transportation—helping local residents, businesses, and communities continue to recover from the pandemic.
Since 2015, Phoenix has made tremendous progress to implement the voter-approved Transportation 2050 plan—an effort I was proud to support as both a city councilwoman and mayor. However, we need Congress to pass both the IIJA and BBBA in order to fully maximize our investments in public transportation. That is where I hope Senator Kyrsten Sinema will play a role.
The Senator has already helped shape and pass the IIJA out of the Senate, working across the aisle to hammer out negotiations for a bill that ultimately will help transform, upgrade, and modernize America’s entire infrastructure, including our public transit and transportation systems. The IIJA includes roughly $107 billion for pubic transit and $102 billion of investments in commuter rail, Amtrak, and high-performance rail in Arizona and nationwide.
These investments will enable our city to continue building out and expanding our multi-modal transit options that connect residents to new education, employment, and entertainment opportunities. At the same time, a stronger transportation infrastructure will help grease the wheels of our local economy, strengthening local businesses, and driving growth in Arizona industries. All of this is critical if we are going to fully recover from the past year and half of stagnation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senator Sinema’s work on the infrastructure bill should not go unnoticed; however, it is critical that she fight just as hard to support and help pass House Democrats’ budget bill, the Build Back Better Act. The BBBA would provide $10 billion in funding for grants to improve public transit access to affordable housing—helping address a critical problem facing low-income communities—as well as another $10 billion for new high-speed rail projects nationwide.
The investments made in both the BBBA and IIJA would be transformational for cities like Phoenix that have already made public transportation a priority. When voters here approved a modest sales tax increase to help fund Transportation 2050, they sent a clear message that expanding bus service, continuing to build out light rail, and making improvements to our entire transportation infrastructure was a priority for Arizonans.
Working to expand our transportation infrastructure to support economic growth, foster job creation, and improve access and mobility in all Phoenix communities has been one of my proudest accomplishments throughout my decades of public service. Senator Sinema can help build on the progress we are already making toward these goals by continuing to work with her colleagues to ensure swift passage of both bills, while ensuring their respective investments in public transportation remain intact.
Thelda Williams is the former mayor of Phoenix as well as a former member of the Phoenix City Council.