Pima County is threatening to pull its funding from an increasingly controversial road project if the city doesn’t build it as originally planned.
County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said it’s becoming clear that the city might not fully implement the Broadway-widening project voters approved in two separate bond elections.
And if the city fails to build a full six-lane, median-divided roadway between Country Club Road and Euclid Avenue, the county won’t contribute its $25 million share to the $71 million project and instead will put the money toward county roads.
In addition, the county would also seek a refund of the $1.3 million it already has spent on the early stages of the project.
City officials say the county is prematurely placing an ultimatum on a project that is still being planned, and by doing so is undermining a citizens panel designed to find a workable solution for the Broadway corridor.
Huckelberry said the county’s hands are tied because of language in a 1997 voter-approved bond.
“The whole context of that bond was adding road capacity. And that means widening the road in most cases,” Huckelberry said. “If (the city) doesn’t meet the terms of the bond ordinance, we can’t spend money on it.”
He decided to send an internal memo to his staff earlier this week as way to start planning for the future, just in case folks against any expansion of Broadway win out.
“We keep hearing some people saying no widening at all,” Huckelberry said. “We’re saying no widening is not an option.”
If the county pulled its money, the city would have to cover the difference.
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 what infuriated residents was that the plan would destroy more than 100 homes and businesses along the corridor.
The city put together a citizens task force last year where neighbors, traffic consultants and city officials could hash out some of their differences. The group is scheduled to continue working on the Broadway plan until next summer.
Some fear Huckelberry’s plans could sabotage the entire effort.
“These people have been told up until now all options are on the table,” said Councilman Steve Kozachik, who was instrumental in forming the committee. “And after a year, some administrator comes in and says, ‘This is what we’re doing or I’m pulling the plug.’ All this does is further erode what little trust people have in their government. If (Huckelberry is) trying to run citizens out of these types of processes, he’s succeeding.”
Assistant City Manager Albert Elias said it’s too early to tell where the citizens panel is headed, and it should be left unfettered.
Elias said the intention was to allow the committee to reach a conclusion and then bring in officials from the city, the county and the Regional Transportation Authority to render a final decision.
“At this point, we would like Pima County to let the process continue until it reaches a conclusion,” Elias said. “We should honor the task force and let them finish.”
As for a possible $1.3 million refund, Elias said the county spent that money according to contract terms. He said the agreement remains in place, and it’s too soon to discuss returning any money.
Huckelberry said the memo was for internal distribution only and shouldn’t be taken out of context.
“The memo wasn’t directed to the city. It was sent to my staff for us to do contingency planning and nothing else,” Huckelberry said.
He said the county is not attempting to subvert the task force or any other part of the project.
Kozachik said it’s still possible the road can be expanded to six lanes without tearing down buildings.
And now’s the time for bureaucrats to take a back seat and let the citizens decide, Kozachik said.
“Knowing that the county has tossed a $25 million poison pill into the mix, it’s time to send the consultants home and turn the task force loose to propose a design,” Kozachik said. “Get the political games out of it and let the citizens put some common sense to work and I’m sure this will all end well.”
Huckelberry said he hopes a solution that satisfies both the bond requirements and residents’ expectations will eventually surface.