Street Sweep

Business owners at Grant and Campbell say a proposed grade-separated intersection would doom their Midtown commercial district.

If you study the model of the city's proposed grade-separated intersection at Grant Road and Campbell Avenue, you'll notice the design carefully spares many of the shops on the bustling midtown corner, just knocking out a few buildings on the north side of Grant Road.

It's a sensitive move by transportation planners to ensure the $20 million-plus construction project, which would tunnel Grant beneath Campbell, does as little damage as possible to the vibrant commercial corridor.

But if the owners and managers of area shops are to be believed, the city might as well be bulldozing all the stores. Many fear that if voters increase the sales tax by a half-cent per dollar on May 21 to fund this and other transportation projects, they won't survive the estimated 20-month construction process.

"It seems like it would spell the end of this particular store," said Dennis Pepe, manager of Bookman's Used Books, which is at GSI ground zero. Although the building would be spared, Pepe fears customers would simply avoid the intersection while work was under way.

Bookman's has recently opened a store at Speedway and Wilmot "as a precautionary measure, in case this store disappears," Pepe said.

Not every business owner along the strip has that option. Bob Lefager, who owns Bob's Deli and Catering, said the construction would hammer the quirky outfits that line the street.

"I think half the businesses along Campbell would go under," Lefager said.

Mark Thomson, who has owned Plaza Liquors for close to a quarter-century, has been following the controversy since a grade-separated intersection was proposed as part of the 1990 transportation sales tax proposal that was crushed by voters. A one-time supporter of the GSI, he has concluded that the project up the street would be a disaster.

"An interchange at Grant and Campbell right now would just be crazy, especially if Campbell between Grant and Glenn stays the way it is," he said. "Then they're going to be pouring North Campbell over the interchange into a bottleneck area."

The constant flow of traffic would make entering and leaving parking lots along Campbell even more harried than it is today. "People are not going to be able to get out or turn left, or they are going to be jumping the gun and causing accidents trying to get in," he predicted.

Thomson said the GSI "is not going to work unless you widen Campbell. And once you widen Campbell, that really does threaten a lot of the integrity of what Campbell is right now, which is a lot of independent businesses that people come from around the city to shop at."

He would prefer that the city experiment with GSIs on new roads as the city grows outward. "They have tremendous merit but I think that involving a merchant area immediately like this isn't necessarily the best idea," he said. "Try one a little further out."

Britton Dornquast, who has owned Hear's Music for more than a decade, is "adamantly against" the project.

It's not that Dornquast opposes roadwork. He wishes the community would build an east-west freeway and said he'd vote for the half-cent sales tax if he thought it would pay for projects that would actually ease congestion. But he's opposed to the May proposition because he doesn't think the GSI will alleviate traffic.

"I think it's a ridiculous concept that we spend $20 million on one intersection so traffic can go underneath the road and traffic can go over the road when you basically drive a quarter of a mile in either direction and you hit a stoplight," Dornquast said.

He's also skeptical of the cost calculated by city transportation officials. "It's going to be the guinea pig. Like everything else that government does, it's going to take twice as long and cost twice as much. So what will happen is they'll get into that thing and they're saying its going to be $20 million, so you can pretty much count on it being $30 million."

Dornquast said customers will vanish during the construction process, which will take at least a year and half. He saw a preview of the impact during a six-week project that put in a right-hand turn lane at Campbell and Grant two years ago.

"My business was off 25 percent for six weeks when they were just knocking out some curbs," he said.

Mayor Bob Walkup, who is optimistically stumping for the tax increase, thinks the business owners are "wrong" about the potential impact.

"I've done exactly the same thing you've done," Walkup said. "The businesses that I have talked to, it's a trade-off between the half-cent sales tax and solving the transportation bottleneck in this city. And the businesses, when they sit and they say, 'OK, you get one or the other, how are you going to vote on this thing?,' they say, 'Boy, I'm in favor of fixing transportation.' It will help business more than the half-cent sales tax is going to hurt the business."

Asked to name an area merchant who would share that perspective, Walkup conceded that he hadn't actually talked to any of them. "Well, I don't know who you can talk to," he said. "But I'll talk to them. I don't believe that we have sat down with them and said, 'This is the manner in which we're going to go about doing this.' "

THE GRADE-SEPARATED intersections--dubbed "continuous-flow intersections" for the May ballot--are emerging as perhaps the most controversial element of the transportation package, which would raise an estimated $40 million a year. The money would be split three ways, with 45 percent going to road widening, 37 percent paying for repairing residential streets and building sidewalks and 18 percent spent to maintain mass transit.

City officials estimate the three GSIs in the project, at Grant and Campbell, Grant and Kolb, and Kino and 22nd Street, will cost at least $50 million.

Last week a group led by former lawmaker John Kromko filed suit against the city, saying the transportation plan violated the city charter's Neighborhood Protection Amendment, which calls for voters to approve each grade-separated intersection separately on the ballot.

In 1985, Kromko led the push to put the Neighborhood Protection Amendment before voters, who narrowly passed it by 51 percent. The political gadfly said it was designed to address precisely the type of proposal city leaders are now making.

"The Neighborhood Protection Amendment was designed so people could see what these projects would look like because we figured the city would lie about how disruptive these projects were going to be," Kromko said.

Rather than ask voters to individually approve the projects, the city's ballot proposal simply states that the new charter amendment satisfies the requirements of the Neighborhood Protection Amendment.

But Attorney Joy Herr-Cardillo of the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, who is representing Kromko and three other plaintiffs, argues that violates the Neighborhood Protection Amendment. She is asking Superior Court Judge Ted Borek to force the city to allow voters to approve each GSI separately.

City Attorney Michael House said he's confident the ballot language will pass legal muster.

While Walkup doesn't know whether the proposal will meet the strict requirements of the Neighborhood Protection Amendment, he promises voters "will know all the things they really need to know about the GSIs." He said putting each individual project on the ballot would confuse voters.

"To some people, anything more than one thing adds levels of confusion," Walkup said. "We think that's the simplest, easiest thing for people to understand."

"That's so arrogant," Kromko said. "You can see that Bob thinks that way all the time: we aren't smart enough to decide what we want to do. We're smarter than he thinks."

Back at Hear's Music on Campbell, Britton Dornquast isn't confused at all about the impact of the grade-separated intersection.

"It's a half-assed Band-Aid solution that won't fix anything," Dornquast said. "And I don't understand why we get to the be the guinea pigs."

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