Taxpayers footing bill for pedestrian bridge that leads to Tempe spring training facility

Critics call it example of taxpayer perks for pro sports
City plans show that it the bridge is part of a larger biking corridor that leads from the East Valley to Phoenix.
Published: Nov. 3, 2022 at 6:00 AM MST|Updated: Nov. 3, 2022 at 7:17 PM MST
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TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- The new pedestrian bridge is part of the massive Interstate 10 widening project east and west of the Broadway Curve. It will offer cyclists and pedestrians a way to get from Tempe to Phoenix without battling traffic. But critics see a freebie for pro sports because the bridge leads to the parking lot of Tempe Diablo Stadium, spring training home to Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Angels.

“I think the Arizona story is typical of the problem with stadiums and sports franchises,” said Greg LeRoy, who is the executive director of the organization, Good Jobs First, which tracks subsidies for business.

LeRoy says the sports world is cluttered with benefits paid for by states, counties and cities. But officials from the City of Tempe don’t see it that way. “Bikes want to go everywhere that cars are going. We’re building a system that provides ways for them to do that safely and accessibly,” said Eric Iwersen, Tempe’s transit manager.

Iwersen says Tempe has been trying to get this bridge built for more than two decades. City plans show that it is part of a larger biking corridor that leads from the East Valley to Phoenix. “It is beneficial when these bikeways, these corridors connect to major destinations and have a variety of uses there,” said Iwersen.

Tempe is paying roughly $500,000 for the bridge. The Arizona Department of Transportation is footing the rest of the $9 million bill. “The project’s goals were determined based on analysis of traffic data and public input provided during multiple studies that have been completed since 2009,” stated a spokesperson for ADOT.

Last year, Tempe completed a renegotiation with the Los Angeles Angels, which will keep the team at Diablo Stadium for spring training for years to come. Under the terms of the new contract, Tempe will pay up to $40 million for upgrades and renovations to the stadium. The Angels will also pay a portion of the cost.

The pedestrian bridge is not included in that contract. “In any honest accounting of the costs of an economic development project, stadiums included — infrastructure costs, including walkways over highways, must be included. That’s not just my opinion. That’s the governmental accounting standards,” said LeRoy.

According to the design concept report for the freeway widening project, it is ADOT policy to include projects like this one, near municipal sports venues, in new construction projects. “It surprises me that the state is making it policy to provide infrastructure for any privately used stadium that happens to be there,” said Neil de Mause, who publishes the blog “Field of Schemes,” which reports on taxpayer benefits to pro sports teams.

“An infrastructure project that benefits a team can benefit the general public, right? I mean something that you can walk to the stadium across. You can also walk or bike across for other reasons. But if you’re spending it on that, you’re not spending it somewhere else. Right?” said de Mause.

A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Angels referred Arizona’s Family Investigates to the City of Tempe for comment.

The largest beneficiaries of the bridge may be cyclists like Jeff Caslake. He is a member of the Tempe Bicycle Action Group. Members have been pushing for this bridge for years. “If I added up all the spring training games, compared to all of the days that we’ll get to use it, I don’t see it as much of a giveaway,” said Caslake.