Do you think the modern streetcar will be finished on time?

It's a question we've been wondering ever since the Star's Darren DaRonco reported the first streetcar prototype will be at least three months late - and is nowhere near completion.

As DaRonco reported last week, Tucson has ordered eight streetcars from United Streetcar, a subsidiary of Oregon Iron Works. While the prototype was supposed to arrive in October, it now might not make it onto our tracks until January. Oregon Iron Works has only completed the outer shell for the one car. It was originally supposed to have seven shells finished by this past June.

This delay is because Oregon Iron Works is so far behind on its order for Portland.

As DaRonco reported, the city of Portland is supposed to receive five of its cars by Sept. 22 when it opens a new streetcar line. But only one prototype has been delivered, and it hasn't yet completed testing.

The word from United Streetcar President Chandra Brown is not good.

"Right now it's more an art than a science," Brown told DaRonco. "This is the first time we built a production car. … And I really want to make it clear, we will know a lot more in a month or two when we test these Portland cars."

It should be noted that Oregon Iron Works is attempting to be the first U.S. company in 60 years to build streetcars, so we understand how it could be working out the proverbial kinks.

In many ways we agree with Rick Gustafson, the executive director of Portland's streetcar project.

"They've been very optimistic about their timelines, and we've been skeptical," Gustafson told DaRonco. "But time frames are always frustrating. But in the scheme of things you want the cars to last 40 years, so waiting an extra four or five months isn't that big a deal."

Unless, perhaps, your business plan is based on the streetcar.

Given the number of businesses that have opened or are planned along the line - ranging from student housing to bars and clubs to mixed-use development - it's crucial for the city to be as open with the public about the timeline as possible.

Shellie Ginn, Tucson's streetcar project manager, told DaRonco the city has hired outside experts who have told officials that Oregon Ironworks will meet deadlines. And Carlos de Leon, director of transit services for the Regional Transportation Authority, said he thought having more time to test the car in Oregon will work to Tucson's benefit.

We are having a hard time seeing how testing the cars in Oregon can benefit Tucson. And given Oregon Iron Works' failure to meet deadlines in the past, we question whether the streetcars will be finished and rolling down the tracks by November 2013.

The city is paying $4 million a car and the $196 million project is taxpayer-funded. If the streetcars are going to be delayed in their arrival to Tucson, the public deserves to at least know about that adjusted timeline in advance.

Arizona Daily Star