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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Column: Modern streetcar, medieval streets

    Locals have long been frustrated with the quality of the roads in Tucson. For a city that prides itself on being bike and pedestrian friendly, the streets complicate commutes on all modes of transportation. It’s difficult to walk, bike and drive across a pothole the size of Meteor Crater. Yet, modern streetcar tracks can be found approximately two feet from these gaping pits in the asphalt. The mystery lies in the complications of allocating transportation funds.

    In May 2006, voters approved the Pima Association Regional Transportation Authority plan. This implemented a sales tax that allocated $2.1 billion worth of funding to make improvements in Tucson transportation.

    The plan encompassed four main components: a roadway improvement element to expand traffic capacity by introducing additional lanes, raising medians, making drainage improvements, adding new turn lanes and improving pedestrian safety crossings; a safety element that included bus pullouts and signal technology; an environmental and economic vitality element consisting of improving pathways, sidewalks, bikeways and providing assistance to small businesses; and the transit element, where most of the RTA plan funds were allocated.

    This element included the Sun Link Tucson Modern Streetcar and provided the project with $75 million of local funding. Because voters approved this plan, that $75 million could only be used for the streetcar — not the potholes.

    Other sources of funding for the streetcar included the Transportation and Infrastructure Generation Economic Recovery grant from the Federal Government that Tucson beat out other cities and towns for in 2010. This granted $63 million to the streetcar that Tucson voters approved in 2006. Michael Graham, a spokesman for the Tucson Transportation Department, explained that the money earmarked for the streetcar could not be used for transportation projects other than transit.

    “There are strings attached to federal funding,” he said. “The money earmarked for transit must stay in transit.”

    It is important to recognize, however, that in 2013, Tucson voters passed Proposition 409, approving $100 million in bond sales to make improvements in city streets. Since the proposition passed, $20 million per year is allocated to the city government for resurfacing projects to fix Tucson roads. Major streets such as Speedway Boulevard and Sixth Street have already seen improvements.

    “There is a long way to go because the needs are great,” Graham said.

    This is a classic example of why voting is important: Things like city bonds and voter referendums in off-year elections tie the hands of officials we elect during presidential years. Poor quality streets in residential areas are issues that we students can impact.

    And when we don’t make our voices heard, we end up with Frankenstreets: beautiful, state-of-the-art technology grafted onto a crumbling infrastructural base.


    Maggie Farry is a junior studying political science and Spanish. Follow her on Twitter.

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