Streetcar culminates a decades-long effort

2014-07-19T20:00:00Z 2014-07-19T21:41:45Z Streetcar culminates a decades-long effortBy Darren DaRonco
and Jamar Younger Arizona Daily Star
Arizona Daily Star

Friday’s streetcar opening will be the culmination of a 30-year effort to relaunch a rail line in Tucson.

Even though Tucsonans exhibited a healthy distaste for higher taxes by rejecting four transportation initiatives over the years, they got on board in 2006 when they approved the streetcar as part of the $2.1 billion RTA package. Now that the $197 million project’s launch is near, let’s take a look at how the modern streetcar came to fruition:

Dec. 31, 1930: Tucson’s original electric streetcar ended a 24-year run connecting downtown with the University of Arizona.

1960s-1970s: Tucson entertained a variety of mass-transit options, including one for a 34-mile monorail loop connecting downtown to the east side and another in 1973 to use computer-controlled two- or four-person cabs running on an elevated line linking downtown, the UA, El Con Mall and Randolph Park.

1983: A nonprofit citizens group formed to try to bring back the historic trolley service as part of the University of Arizona centennial celebration. It would take them 10 years to bring that dream to reality.

1987-1990: The city-commissioned Broadway Corridor Study contained plans for a light rail line to run along Broadway from downtown to Pantano Road, but officials concluded it wouldn’t qualify for federal funding.

November 1990: Over the objections of transit advocates, plans for a rail line were dropped from a proposed 1990 transportation plan and half-cent sales-tax increase, which was defeated 61 percent to 39 percent.

April 1993: Old Pueblo Trolley began providing weekend service along North Fourth Avenue and East University Boulevard. The service continued to operate until 2011, in part using track from the earlier trolley line.

2001: Five members of a citizens advisory committee met with then-Transportation Department Deputy Director Jim Glock to propose a rail transit line as an alternative to road widening. Glock said the public wouldn’t go for it. But the group continued to grow, eventually becoming Citizens for Sensible Transportation. They would meet regularly to draw up transit plans and pitch their case to residents, elected officials and community leaders.

May 2002: After the City Council rejected any light-rail options for a half-cent sales-tax increase measure to fund a 10-year transportation plan, Citizens for Sensible Transportation campaigned against the measure, which failed 69 percent to 31 percent.

November 2003: Citizens for Sensible Transportation collects enough petition signatures to put its own plan for expanded bus service and light rail on the ballot, but it, too, failed, 63 percent to 37 percent. Car dealers and home-builder associations poured money into defeating it since passage meant higher taxes.

2003: Rep. Raúl Grijalva’s earmarked funding for a streetcar in a house bill that passed the following year. Although the money was never allocated, the proposal would play an important role in securing federal dollars down the road for the streetcar since the streetcar would be considered an existing, shovel-ready project.

2004: On the heels of two consecutive ballot losses, the Pima Association of Governments convened a citizens task force comprised of diverse interests from business owners, neighborhood activists, environmentalist and homebuilders to work out a comprehensive transportation plan for the region.

The city also formed a committee that year to begin looking into ways to connect the University of Arizona to Fourth Avenue, downtown, and the west side of Interstate 10. After studying its options, the group recommended moving forward with the streetcar because it carried the most economic development potential, said Shellie Ginn, the city’s streetcar Project Manager.

2005: The PAG task force settled on a $2.1 billion Regional Transportation Authority measure to present to voters. The measure would include about $87 million for a streetcar line. City officials estimated the streetcar could be running as soon as 2011.

May 2006: After decades of rejecting transportation ballot measures, voters approved the fifth attempt, 60 percent to 40 percent.

2009: President Obama announced federal funds were now available for transportation projects. The city submitted an application for the streetcar.

The city also picked Oregon Ironworks to build its seven streetcars for about $30 million. Oregon Ironworks is the first American company to build streetcars in 60 years.

2010: The federal government announced the city would receive $63 million for the streetcar.

May 2010: The city pushed back the streetcar start date about two years to November 2013 because streetcars wouldn’t be delivered to Tucson until at least 2012.

April 2012: The city began construction on the 3.9-mile streetcar route, erecting fences and tearing up asphalt along the route.

August 2012: Design troubles and other setbacks at Oregon Ironworks delayed delivery of the first streetcars until at least January 2013. City officials still thought they could maintain a November 2013 opening date.

December 2012: Further streetcar delays prompted city officials to push back the start date to the summer of 2014.

July 2013: Crews welded the final streetcar track.

August 2013: The first streetcar arrived in Tucson to begin testing.

October 2013: Streetcar construction ended.

May 2014: The final streetcar arrived in Tucson.

July 25: The streetcar opens for riders.

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 or ddaronco@tucson.com Follow on twitter @DarrenDaRonco. Contact reporter Jamar Younger at 573-4242 or jyounger@tucson.com Follow on Twitter @JamarYounger.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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