The economy is crawling and the government is broke, so why are we still spending 1 percent of road construction money on public art?

Paul Cragle, who is a regular question-asker in Road Runner's Road Q, wants to know. And, he says, "I consider that a major waste of taxpayer dollars."

Good question, Paul.

When it comes to the family checkbook, art is certainly a luxury item. So why is it different for the government? The public-art spending rule has been around since the mid-'80s - good economy or bad.

I asked some local officials and here are their responses.

Gary Hayes, executive director of the Regional Transportation Authority, said building a road is more than just pouring concrete; it's building a sense of place. The RTA is going for a "desert parkway" concept for local roads, which includes public art, medians and landscaping, he said.

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said in an email: "Very often public art can be integrated with the project components such as noise walls for transportation. When this occurs, there is really no waste of money. Public art on other public projects is a worthwhile endeavor as it allows the public free access and exposure to art that they otherwise may not get. The program as now structured remains a very appropriate public expenditure."

Mike Graham, a spokesman for the city of Tucson, said: "We support public art in order to create cityscape that helps contribute to the image and the identity of the city."

There's a selection process for public art that encourages public participation, which in turn encourages civic pride, he said.

Craig Civalier, the town engineer in Oro Valley, said: "It doesn't really cost that much for the aesthetics that you get out of it. It kind of makes a town your town."

On a $10 million project, the 1 percent rule is $100,000 for public art, he said. That can go into a retaining wall, a bridge, a bus stop or a sculpture, to name a few.

A lot of the artists go with a desert theme that gives the community character, he said. "I like it, personally."

Civalier said he especially likes the projects created by youth.

There's also an economic development aspect, he said, because "artists need work, too, you know."

Down The Road

• Fourth Avenue is down to one lane between Sixth and Eighth streets during the daytime through Friday while crews install underground utilities. Watch for flaggers and plan ahead for parking.

• One eastbound lane on Tanque Verde Road and one southbound lane of Sabino Canyon Road will be closed for three weeks, beginning today, while crews install a storm drain.

• This week traffic on eastbound Interstate 10 near Benson will begin using a half-mile detour, which will be in place for about three months while crews build new lanes on the interstate. The speed limit is 55, so plan ahead for the delay.

• The westbound I-10 exit ramp at Red Rock will be closed from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday for crack sealing. If you need to get to Red Rock, take the frontage road at Marana Road.

• Daytime lane closures will continue through Thursday on Ajo Highway west of Three Points in the Tohono O'odham Nation.

• The Santa Cruz River Park underpasses at Grant Road will be closed now and then on weekdays for a couple of weeks, beginning today, while crews install gas lines. While one underpass closes, you can detour to the underpass on the other side of the river.


Question: Mark Coppola sees motorized bicycles "skirting the law" and isn't sure they're street legal. "As a cyclist, it ticks me off to have these vehicles fly by me at 35 to 40 mph in my bike lane," he wrote.

Answer: Pima County sheriff's Deputy Dawn Barkman said motorized bicycles are not illegal, but they should be using traffic lanes if they are going over 30 mph. "They can be cited for improper use of a bike lane if they are using the bike lane and traveling at speeds in excess of 30 mph," she said in an email.

Send your Road Q questions by email to or to 4850 S. Park Ave., Tucson, AZ 85714. Please include first and last names.