Growing up as a native Tucsonan and desert dweller, I was always told to "never complain when it rains."
The same should be said about our regional road construction, even though I'm as guilty of complaining about it as anyone. Many of the projects we are trying to navigate through, particularly when we are late for appointments or to work, are funded by the Regional Transportation Authority as part of its 20-year, $2.1 billion plan approved by voters on May 16, 2006.
The goals of the RTA plan, in its seventh year, are to improve safety and cross-town mobility and reduce congestion on major corridors. The RTA and its member jurisdictions have completed more than 500 projects that are on pace with the RTA goals.
Clearly, the largest project under way is the installation of the tracks for Sun Link, the Tucson streetcar, along the 3.9-mile route that connects the east and west sides of downtown Tucson and runs along Fourth Avenue and through the University of Arizona campus.
The track construction is expected to be completed about midsummer. This has been a long and arduous time for our downtown business community. Further, we expect delays in production of the streetcars themselves and potentially face other related costs and issues. I am planning a trip to Oregon Iron Works in Portland within the next month to highlight the necessity for the company to improve its production processes and schedules with the goal of providing safe and long-lasting vehicles.
The RTA and the city of Tucson will continue to be vigilant in ensuring that the taxpayers are getting exactly what they contracted for when they voted for the RTA plan.
We commend the business community and neighbors along the route for their patience and support for a project that we believe will only further the economic benefits for all those along or near the streetcar route.
In addition, nine roadway projects are underway and nearly as many are in the design phase. Bikeway and sidewalk improvements are ongoing around the region, and we will soon see a couple of major construction projects begin to provide safer crossings for wildlife.
The RTA continues to partner with Pima Council on Aging to provide volunteer transit services. This year's service is looking to outpace last year's total of 31,000 trips.
New this year, the RTA staff is beginning to assess the performance of work that has been completed in the plan's four primary elements: roadways, safety, transit, and environment and economic vitality. The first report features completed intersections to date under the safety element.
The report is posted online at RTAmobility.com, and you should take a look. It's impressive to see the "before" and "after" photos and also to see where the intersections are on a map.
On the financial side, the RTA has collected more than $450 million to date in sales tax revenues. In addition, the authority issued $150 million in bonds in May 2011 with most of the projects funded by those dollars nearly completed.
Sales tax revenues continue to climb but are not yet up to fiscal year 2006-07 levels. That is something we will need to watch as projects are completed over the remaining life of the RTA plan. This month, the RTA board will consider options to bond in the next year as part of its FY 2013-14 budget. Requests for bond funding should come as no surprise since it was anticipated and scheduled as part of the overall RTA budget as the plan was developed.
The RTA and its member jurisdictions have worked hard to deliver on the promise made to voters back in 2006. To date, the RTA plan has performed under budget in light of current economic conditions. Will future years challenge our budget? No doubt, the pace of the economy will be an influence. In the meantime, we promise to keep churning out RTA projects.
Steve Christy, vice chairman of the Arizona State Transportation Board, serves as the 2013 chairman of the Regional Transportation Authority Board.