Tucson took some noticeable steps on Monday in implementing the final phase of its decades-long attempt to connect the east side with Interstate 10 near downtown.
Crews started demolishing three state-owned warehouses on Stone Avenue and Sixth Street to make way for the third phase of the city’s Downtown Links project. It will ultimately connect Barraza-Aviation Parkway with I-10.
The $84.6 million project was divided into three phases, with the last involving work on Sixth Street from Church Avenue to Broadway.
“This is going to be the most difficult phase,” said Tom Fisher, Tucson Department of Transportation project manager.
Plans include constructing a new underpass, a deck plaza, buffered bike paths, elevated pedestrian walkways and a new four-lane road.
Downtown Links has its origins in the Arizona Department of Transportation’s 1981 Aviation Parkway plan to create a six-mile link between Interstate 10 near downtown and South Palo Verde Boulevard.
Almost from the start, the project garnered stiff opposition from neighborhood activists and businesses who feared the proposed route would destroy too many homes and buildings in historic parts of town.
It took 12 years to get the first one-mile length of roadway built, and another three years to finish the whole five-mile leg to the eastern edge of downtown, which is where the parkway has ended since 1996.
Even though it only spanned one mile, the proposed downtown route underwent over 20 redesigns before a final route was settled on in 2008.
Although the city still needs to acquire additional properties, the plan is to tear down as few structures as possible.
“We’re trying to thread the needle and take out only the buildings that we need while preserving the others,” Fisher said.
Construction is expected to begin in early 2016 and is estimated to take between 24 and 30 months to complete.