Tucson Oddity: North-side area just fine with dirt roads, rural feel

2012-09-03T00:00:00Z 2014-09-01T17:13:23Z Tucson Oddity: North-side area just fine with dirt roads, rural feelCarol Ann Alaimo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
September 03, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Residents of one Tucson neighborhood don't have to go far to reach the end of the road. It's just outside their doors.

They live in a curious section of the city that's been unpaved for generations.

Here in Richland Heights West, south of East Prince Road and west of North Campbell Avenue, horses crunch oats and wild rabbits munch mesquite leaves in an 80-acre rural oasis surrounded by whizzing traffic.

Its been this way since the 1940s, when the neighborhood was founded on former ranch land long before it became part of a city.

While similar Tucson neighborhoods opted for asphalt over the years, most here have turned up their noses, fearing it would increase through traffic and ruin the area's ambience.

"It's certainly the lone holdout in what you'd call the midtown area," said Andy McGovern, a transportation administrator for the city of Tucson.

The speed limit on the area's rutted roads is 15 mph - the same slow crawl as in school crossing zones - and signs everywhere tell drivers they are in a "dust control zone."

Constant dust is one of the drawbacks of living here, said Mel Riise, the neighborhood association's president.

But there are big pluses, too: peace and quiet, wildlife galore, and cooler summers than elsewhere in Tucson, since there's no asphalt to absorb and radiate heat.

"You can feel it driving into the neighborhood at night. All of a sudden - boom! - it's 10 degrees cooler," said Mel's wife, Sharron Riise, the neighborhood's first lady.

The 80 or so families who live here have held several votes over the years on whether to upgrade the roads. The idea is always rejected by the majority.

McGovern, the city transportation official, said the city offered to do the work in the late 1990s, but "the answer was a resounding 'no.' "

At that time, the city had money to do it. Today it doesn't, McGovern said. If residents changed their minds now, they'd likely have to pay for the $1 million or so of paving work through a decade-long improvement surcharge on their tax bills.

Mel Riise doubts that will happen.

"What it boils down to," he said, "is we like it the way it is."

Got an oddity?

Is there something you've noticed while driving through Tucson that has piqued your curiosity? Or is there some piece of Old Pueblo history you've wondered about? Drop us a line, and we'll look into it.

Contact the Star newsroom at oddity@azstarnet.com or 807-7776.

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at calaimo@azstarnet.com or at 573-4138.

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