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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Streetcar project doesn’t deserve extra funding from UA

    The Tucson Modern Streetcar construction has been nothing but an inconvenience to the UA community and downtown Tucson thus far. The project, which has been delayed several times already and won’t be operational until 2014 at the earliest, has closed sections of University Boulevard, Park Avenue and Second Street, making campus roads even more hectic.

    Yet, Tucson City Councilman of Ward 6 Steve Kozachik insists that the UA needs to contribute a “fairly substantial” amount of money to the project. Streetcar project manager Shellie Ginn has also said she wants the UA and Pima Community College to pay their fair share of the operating costs for the modern streetcar.

    Both the UA and PCC have said they no longer plan to contribute to operating costs, though the UA does plan to spend about $300,000 every year to subsidize streetcar passes for students and faculty. The city will also be able to market the streetcar at the UA and the construction crews have been able to use the university’s electrical boxes.

    Though the roads are mostly open now, construction continues on and around campus. The UA has been cooperative during the frustrating process that was initially supposed to end with the streetcar up and running for tests by Nov. 11, 2011, and open to the public in 2012. It’s understandable that after almost a three-year delay, the university no longer plans to contribute in the streetcar’s operational costs.

    This is a good business lesson for a variety of reasons, and it’s one the City Council should take to heart. Next time, before it commits to spending $196 million — the overall project cost including project oversight and all the construction of the tracks and actual streetcars — it should have created a contract with the UA and PCC.

    Second, know how much money a project is going to cost to operate before starting construction. Initial operating costs were projected to be about $2.9 million a year, though it’s now projected at $5.2 million by 2017. The majority of the increased expense is a result of the new streetcar management company recommending the city hire an extra 16 employees to operate the streetcar efficiently and safely. That was a major oversight.

    Finally, when you’re talking about financial contributions, name actual numbers. What is a “fairly substantial” contribution? And what does paying our fair share mean?

    What happened here is obvious. Kozachik, the other city council members and the mayor made a mistake — a big mistake. They started dishing out hundreds of millions of dollars before they knew exactly what they were getting themselves into. Now that reality has struck and all the balance sheets are being printed in red ink, the city is panicking and pointing fingers.

    In truth, Tucson has no one to blame but itself.

    I don’t doubt that the UA will benefit from the streetcar once it’s finally finished. Traffic congestion on and around campus will hopefully decrease, and eventually the streetcar might spur downtown Tucson’s economy into hiring graduates and making for a more lively college town. But until the city can show the UA concrete facts as to how the streetcar will financially benefit university students and faculty, $300,000 a year is enough of a substantial contribution.

    — Nathaniel Drake is a sophomore studying political science and communications. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu or Twitter via @WildcatOpinions.

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