The City Council rebuffed efforts by the Transportation Department to limit the options a citizen task force can consider for the widening of East Broadway on Tuesday.
The council voted unanimously to keep a four-lane option on the table for the Broadway-widening project between Euclid Ave and Country Club Road, even though doing so risks losing $32 million in funding.
Plans for a six-lane road would force the removal of some homes and businesses, which neighbors oppose. But a four-lane configuration would be inadequate for traffic needs, and risks the loss of county and Regional Transportation Authority funding.
Transportation officials asked the council to drop the four-lane option because Pima County and the RTA have warned they would pull funding if the road is under six lanes.
“We wanted the council to declare that the four-lane was not a viable option,” said Jennifer Toothaker Burdick, project manager for the city’s Transportation Department.
The county made it clear last year it would redirect its $25 million contribution to county roads if the city failed to widen Broadway in a manner consistent with what voters were promised when they approved funding.
County officials said the 1997 bond language linked county funding to increased road capacity, which translates into wider lanes.
If the money gets pulled, the city would have to pay for the entire $71 million project itself or end it.
But even ditching the project comes with a steep price tag, said city Transportation Director Daryl Cole.
Cole said if the city wants to repave that portion of Broadway in the future, it would cost over $20 million for sidewalks, asphalt and relocation expenses.
A council vote would demonstrate to the task force, which has been bogged down on the issue for months, that four-lanes isn’t tenable, Cole said.
But the council wasn’t convinced it should interfere in a process designed to gather residents’ suggestions.
“If we want citizens to volunteer their time on these task forces, we’ve got to respect their input,” Councilman Steve Kozachik said. “It’s our job to set the ground rules and then turn them loose to design the corridor. Threats of funding have no place in that process.”
Mayor Jonathan Rothschild challenged Cole to confront the task force with the facts and then make a decision that was best for the city.
“You are going to lay out all of the facts, and there is still going to be a group of people are going to say, ‘We don’t care. We don’t want any change. We want four lanes,” Rothschild said.
But he told Cole it is his job “to come back with your best recommendation, as your professional responsibility to the entire city, and make that recommendation in no uncertainty and no equivocation. Then we make that final decision.”
For years, residents and government officials sparred over the proposed Broadway project. The idea was to expand Broadway, beginning in 2016, extending eastward from downtown to ameliorate future traffic congestion.
But residents have been irate that the plan would destroy more than 100 homes and businesses.
The city set up a task force to deal with those concerns nearly two years ago.
While nothing was settled, some task force members were pleased to hear Cole state that there was leeway in the project design.
Cole said the city could set up hybrid-use lanes where cars would be allowed to drive in designated bus lanes during peak hours in the morning and evening, but would be prohibited from using them in off-peak hours. Cole said many design choices exist within the six-lane option that wouldn’t result in lost homes or businesses.
That was welcome news to task force chairperson Mary Durham-Pflibsen.
“The stakeholders are committed to preserving buildings, preserving businesses and preserving the quality of life in neighborhoods,” Durham-Pflibsen said.
“What’s driven the interest in four lanes is that it looks narrower on paper,” she said, and neighbors want to know there is support for keeping the footprint narrow, regardless the number of lanes.