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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “Light rail to link UA, downtown”

    Tucson will soon have a modern streetcar, and although it’s not going to be called Desire, it is definitely what Tucson residents want, said Fran LaSala, assistant to the city manager.

    The public streetcar, set to open Nov. 11, 2011, would act as a passageway from downtown Tucson to the UA, LaSala said.

    So what exactly is a “”modern”” streetcar?

    It’s going to look more like a light-rail train than a traditional streetcar – sleek, with a driver’s car at each end and a car for passengers in the middle. LaSala said it would run on a streetcar-like track in the road.

    The streetcar will be electric, with tracks below and a cable above, and will be quiet and relatively inexpensive to operate, he said.

    “”It’s so quiet we have to make sure they have bells and whistles so people know its coming,”” said Dave Heineking, associate director for Parking and Transportation Services.

    The track will run through the center of the UA, essentially replacing the teal line of Cat Tran but keeping the same stops. It will run down Helen Street to Cherry Avenue, Second Street to University Boulevard, down Fourth Avenue and into downtown, Heineking said.

    He added that there would be 19 stops on the route and passengers would never have to wait more than 10 minutes for a train because there would be six running simultaneously.

    Heineking said PTS is currently working with the city to create a deal so students and faculty can ride the streetcar for free as part of the U-Pass. A fee for regular riders has not been decided on yet, but it would be included in Sun Tran passes. The UA would also continue to subsidize Sun Tran passes for students, Heineking said.

    “”We really want people to jump on and off this thing around campus,”” Heineking said.

    He said he hoped the convenience of the streetcar would encourage people to use alternative forms of transportation.

    “”I will definitely use [the streetcar],”” said pre-physiology junior Devin Dunatov.

    The cars will run seven days a week most likely from 5 a.m. to 2 a.m., LaSala said.

    He said he thinks it would be extremely convenient for UA students who want to go to Fourth Avenue or downtown, as well as for other people who want to park and eat dinner downtown and then come to the UA for an event.

    “”It will be a plus when you’re talking about carbon footprints. It will hopefully help lower Tucson’s emissions,”” LaSala said.

    Each car would be air-conditioned and provide free wireless Internet as well as space for riders’ bikes, he said.

    “”It’s an economic development, too,”” said LaSala. “”Businesses want to be on the rail.””

    He said the latest studies show that for every $1 that is put into the rail, $7 is returned to the surrounding economy.

    Congress Street, in downtown, is already getting ready for the business the modern streetcar will bring. Several new restaurants are being built and the Rialto and Fox theaters are being redone, LaSala said.

    The streetcars will have priority at all traffic lights and it is expected that new lights will be built at Park Avenue and Second Street as well as at University Boulevard and Park Avenue, LaSala said.

    “”I don’t believe this will be the end. It’s what Tucson needs. You’re connecting students with Fourth and downtown,”” LaSala said.

    Funding for construction is coming from the federal government as well as the Regional Transportation Authority. The UA is only involved in some small property exchanges, Heineking said.

    LaSala said voters agreed in 2006 to have an additional half-cent added to sales tax, which funds projects like the streetcar.

    “”We’re starting to think again like we did in the beginning of the century. There are easier ways to do things,”” LaSala said.

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