Mayors from 11 Arizona communities, including Tucson, Phoenix, Oro Valley and Marana, sent a letter to Arizona congressional leaders, supporting Amtrak’s proposal for a passenger rail connecting Tucson and Phoenix.
“It's about a regional approach to economic development because what's good for Tucson is good for the region,” said Romero in a media roundtable with Amtrak and city leaders on Tuesday. “It really is about offering an opportunity to all of our residents, including those that live south of Tucson in Nogales and Rio Rico, to connect even tourists that are coming in from Sonora, Mexico, which is our number one trading partner in Arizona, to Tucson.”
The passenger rail would be an alternative to driving, with a five-minute shorter travel time than the peak two-hours-and-30-minute commute from Tucson to Phoenix, said Amtrak President Stephen Gardner. The route would also link other towns, such as Marana, Coolidge and Goodyear.
The rail would offer three daily round trips between Tucson, Phoenix and Buckeye, and one daily trip from Tucson to Los Angeles. The proposed line is part of Amtrak’s Corridor Vision Plan to expand low carbon intercity passenger rail service to 160 communities across the nation over the next 15 years.
“We have a global climate crisis. In part congestions on the road and really in the air feed some of that. We have a history of some structural inequality in society but particularly in transportation as well,” said Amtrak CEO Bill Flynn. “We believe that one way to rise and address these challenges that our country confronts is through expanding intercity passenger rail service, putting in place a system that offers frequent reliable, sustainable and equitable alternatives to driving and flying.”
Flynn said the rail could address long-term congestion issues in the corridor, as Tucson commuters are estimated to spend about 90% more time in traffic than elsewhere and large city commuters may be experiencing as much as 62 hours of congestion delay, estimated to cost about $1,000 a year.
WASHINGTON – Border officials urged lawmakers to stick to a plan to reopen the border to nonessential travel Monday, even as they said more needs to be done to prepare for the expected surge in traffic.
The travel restriction was first imposed in March 2020 because of COVID-19 and has been regularly extended since, with the latest extension through 11:59 p.m. Monday. It was not clear if it will be extended again, but witnesses told a Senate Homeland Security subcommittee Wednesday that border communities cannot afford another delay in the reopening.
“I implore you to work with the White House in lifting border crossing restrictions for nonessential travel,” said Guillermo Valencia, who was testifying on behalf of the Greater Nogales and Santa Cruz County Port Authority.
“While these measures may have served an important role at critical times during the height of the pandemic, the continuation of these provisions are engendering the negative impacts on border economies,” he said.
Valencia testified that border crossings at Nogales are down by more than 46%, a drop that has “decimated” small businesses, restaurants, hotels and stores in the town.
But Valencia and others at the hearing also told senators on the Governmental Operations and Border Management Subcommittee that more workers and better technology will be needed at ports of entry to keep up with any increase in cross-border traffic once restrictions are lifted.
Anthony Reardon, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said there is a staffing gap of more than 2,000 workers at Customs and Border Protection, which has seen no additional funding for hires since fiscal 2020. Even though border crossings fell during the pandemic, he said workers are stretched thin.
“If these essential travel restrictions are indeed lifted, I have heard from NTEU leaders that the current staffing at land ports will be unable to maintain inspection and processing functions to address the expected increase in traffic flow in a timely manner,” Reardon said.
PHOENIX – Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is filling up with more travelers this summer, with more than 4.8 million passengers boarding flights there in the past four months alone, according to a report published on the airport’s website.
Due to the low volume of travelers at the height of the pandemic, getting through security and the preboarding process was quick and easy. But today, the process is a bit more difficult, according to Patricia Mancha, a media Transportation Security Administration spokesperson.
“During the pandemic, if anyone traveled they saw no lines. It was a quick process. That’s not the case anymore,” Mancha said.
The COVID-19 pandemic hit American travelers hard in 2020 and early 2021. In addition to lockdowns and people’s health concerns over travel, government-issued bans on travel to countries such as Iran, China, the United Kingdom, Brazil, South Africa and most recently, India.
According to Sky Harbor officials, 2020 had a total of around 21 million travelers, compared to the more than 40 million who traveled through the airport in every other year in the decade.
WASHINGTON – With vaccination efforts in full force, airlines and airports are on their way to bouncing back from a year in which passenger traffic fell as much as 96% because of the pandemic, officials told a Senate panel Wednesday.
And that improvement has also been seen at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, where “we were very, very excited to see numbers increase to about 70%” of pre-pandemic levels, said Charlene Reynolds, assistant aviation director of the Phoenix Department of Aviation.
“Here at Sky Harbor, we are currently seeing some revival of traffic,” Reynolds said in her testimony to the Senate Commerce subcommittee. “We looked at some of the projections from the rating agencies, they believe we will return to normalcy in 2024, however, we’re very hopeful that passengers will return sooner than 2024.”
While they talked about gains, however, much of the hearing was dedicated to the question of health concerns associated with increased travel, and the need to keep enforcing COVID-19 safeguards.
“I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about how safe it is to fly, and what the future holds for air travel,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who said recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not provide the clarity “needed to maintain public confidence.”
WASHINGTON – Thanksgiving travel is expected to be down sharply this year because of COVID-19, but as many as 50 million Americans are still expected to travel this week despite pleas from health experts to stay home.
And those people who do travel could run into a bewildering array of restrictions when they reach their destinations, experts say.
“It is important to know the risks involved and ways to keep yourself and others safe,” the AAA said in its annual Thanksgiving travel outlook. “In addition to CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidance, travelers should also be aware of local and state travel restrictions, including testing requirements and quarantine orders.”
The AAA forecast predicts an overall decline of at least 10% in holiday travelers, from 55 million last year to just over 50 million this year.
But that’s still a lot of people and officials are making changes to accommodate safe travel in a time of COVID-19.
“We have encouraged our business partners to establish touchless applications where possible and we encourage travelers to use mobile boarding passes wherever possible,” said Greg Roybal, a spokesman for Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Sky Harbor announced a partnership Monday with XpresSpa Group Inc., a health and wellness company, that has set up a COVID-19 testing facility in a former urgent care clinic in Terminal 4. The six testing rooms should be able to handle more than 400 travelers per day.