By Evan Pellegrino
Jake Lacey/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Transportation Director Jim Glock from the City of Tucson explains the proposed bus routes for downtown to geography senior Mark Thompson in the Grand Ballroom of the Student Union Memorial Center yesterday.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
The Regional Transportation Authority visited the UA last night to collect public opinion on a proposed 20-year construction plan intended to expand transportation around the UA campus and other areas.
The key concepts of the plan aims to reduce traffic congestion, improve safety and increase bike and pedestrian paths, which will have an affect on how students get around, planners said.
Ten percent of Tucsonans travel to the UA area each day to study, work and shop, said Shellie Ginn, a City of Tucson project manager. One way the city plans to improve transportation for this part of the community is by adding a new form of transportation, she said.
If county residents pass the proposal and tax in the spring, one of the changes implemented will be a modern streetcar.
The streetcar will connect downtown Tucson to the UA, traveling through UA-area business districts like East University Boulevard and North Fourth Avenue, Ginn said.
"The streetcar is expected to greatly increase business along its track."
If approved, construction is expected to begin in 2009, Ginn said.
When the streetcar begins its route, planned for 2011, it will aim to "transport as many people as possible as fast as possible," Ginn said.
The federal government has offered to match up to $75 million for the streetcar but the city will depend on the sales-tax increase to fund its half of the project.
Improvements to UA-area roads outlined in the proposal include widening Grant Road, the city's heaviest traveled east-west corridor, into six lanes, divided by a raised and landscaped medium. The improvements also plan for a bike lane in each
direction and continuous street lighting at night, Ginn said.
Speedway Boulevard is also planned to have bike lanes in each direction as well as improved and safer intersections.
If voters approve the proposal, Broadway Boulevard and 22nd Street will also be widened to six lanes each, and bike lanes will be added in each direction between Euclid Avenue and Tucson Boulevard.
The proposal also calls for increased routes, expanded hours, and more pullouts for buses, said Rick Myers, chair member of the RTA citizen advisory committee.
Twenty-five percent of the total project's funding is planned to improve public transit. The enhanced bus routes and times will benefit students, especially those taking night classes, Myers said.
If passed, the proposal will also double many of Tucson's bike paths around campus, Myers said, adding that the proposal calls for a doubling of money currently spent on bike trails throughout the county.
"This issue has a lot of impact on the UA community," said Barbara Becker, professor of planning, who also serves on the RTA citizens advisory committee.
President Peter Likins spoke in favor of the proposal and applauded the RTA for creating the plan by taking public input.
He commended the group for getting other Pima County local governments involved in the project and said he hopes local governments will begin to work together more in the future.
"Anyone that cares about the long-term quality of life in this community will approve of this proposal," Likins said. "We're being tested as a community, this is about more than transportation. The plan and process is magnificent. If we don't back the RTA we're making a big mistake"
The plan, expected to be on next May's ballot, will depend on voters approving two proposals.
One is a countywide, half-cent sales-tax increase, expected to fund the $4.1 billion project. The second is the approval of the plan itself, which will be on the same ballot.
About 20 to 30 percent of the funding will come from tourists, Myers said, and the tax increase will cost the average Pima County resident an extra $2 per month.
Pima County's population is expected to increase as much as 54 percent during the next 20 years, a figure that calls for swift transportation improvements and heavy planning, Myers said. He expressed that major transportation improvements should have started and been funded many years ago.
Mark Thompson, a geography senior, attended last night's forum and said he was impressed by the suggested improvements to the bus system, which is his main form of transportation.
Because he wants a better bus system, he said, he is encouraging friends and other community members to approve the proposal and the tax increase next spring.
The RTA has presented its plan in 85 meetings across Pima County in order to gather input and find the transportation needs from different communities, Myers said.
Last night's event was to get the opinions of the UA community specifically, Myers said.
The RTA will continue to take public input until the first week of November. At this point, the plan will be finalized and local governments in Pima County will have an opportunity to review and approve of the plan for May's ballot, Myers said.
The Graduate Planning Society and the UA chapter of the Institute of Transportation Engineering sponsored last night's presentation.
Alan Flaxman, a civil engineering junior and president of the UAITE, said the "overall long-term thinking of the proposal is progressive." Flaxman said he hopes the public will buy into the plan next spring.