Several weeks back, the Road Runner looked into changes made to estimated construction dates for the remaining phases of the Grant Road Improvement Project, the single largest in the RTA plan.
Those estimated construction start years were recently bumped back five years on the city of Tucson project’s website, which took the range for phases three and four to between 2023 and 2025 and, for five and six, to 2026 to 2028, beyond the 20-year RTA period, which ends in 2026.
This took business owners and residents along the corridor by surprise, and the column raised concerns among some city officials. It also raised the eyebrows of Farhad Moghimi, executive director of the Pima Association of Governments, which manages the RTA. In the view of Moghimi and others at PAG, the project has stuck to the schedule promised to voters and will be completed within the 20-year RTA period.
“The RTA ballot defines a ‘suggested’ Grant Road project construction schedule as RTA periods 2 (FY 12-16), 3 (FY 17-21) and 4 (FY 22-26), so the full schedule range is from FY 2012 to FY 2026. The RTA met the requirement of the statute by starting the project in the (RTA’s) second period,” a letter responding to the column from PAG read. “The schedule for the remainder of the project can be flexible through 2026. … By definition of the requirements for the RTA statute and ballot, the Grant Road project is not delayed.”
Furthermore, a recent state audit of the RTA’s work over its first decade found that projects have generally been delivered on time, on budget and as promised.
So, to clarify the matter, the Road Runner sat down with Moghimi for a lengthy interview.
Presented with the estimated construction years online, he said they were “incorrect.”
The current five-year RTA transportation improvement program, which details projects through fiscal year 2022, has Grant Road phases three and four “fully funded,” he said. As to phases five and six, Moghimi said it was understood that construction would not start until late into the fourth and final RTA period due in part to pavement repair work done along the stretch of Grant from North Santa Rita Avenue to Columbus Boulevard in 2015.
That being said, extending the construction start date to 2028 is “not even practical,” Moghimi said.
“We’re going to complete everything within the RTA 20-year period,” Moghimi said.
Since the original late November column, the Grant project website has been updated. The estimated construction year for phases five and six — roughly between North Mountain Avenue and North Country Club Road — now just reads 2026, though the range for phases three and four remains the same.
But why were the estimated construction start years originally changed in the first place?
“Pure cash flow within the RTA,” is how Daryl Cole, director of Tucson’s transportation department, answered that question for the November column.
The RTA has been contending with sales-tax revenues well below what was forecast around 2005. Instead of the expected $2.1 billion, the half-cent sales tax is now expected to bring in around $1.6 billion over its 20-year life. However, Moghimi and others say state and federal funds have been able to fill in those gaps to ensure timely project delivery.
City Manager Michael Ortega said the changes in construction start dates online were based “on the information we had.”
“You make the best decisions you can with the best information, and as time goes on you update,” he said.
The quality of that information could improve in the near future. Ortega said the RTA technical management committee recently decided to form a task force whose purpose is to evaluate the remaining projects and their likely scope and costs. That, in turn, will give a better sense of the scale of the cash flow issue and its possible impacts on construction timing.
So, for people living along the Grant corridor, the construction start dates currently online don’t need to be taken with a grain of salt, but Ortega said, “I’ll be able to give you a higher level of comfort” once the task force completes its work. The Road Runner will keep an eye on their proceedings and follow up once their work is complete.
At the very least, Ortega said all Grant Road phases should be completed with funds raised during the 20-year RTA period, though actual construction paid for with those revenues could extend beyond that.
After speaking with Moghimi, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild told the Road Runner, “There’s no reason why the project can’t be done by 2026, or even before that.”
DOWN THE ROAD
- For the second year, there will be a free shuttle running this holiday season between Udall Park and the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, allowing easy access to the popular hiking spot without parking headaches. From Dec. 26 through Jan. 1, the shuttle will leave Udall hourly starting at 9:15 a.m. The last bus leaves Sabino at 4:55 p.m. The Udall pickup location is near the Tanque Verde Road entrance across from Paseo Rancho Esperanza. Sun Tran routes 5, 8, 9 and 37 provide connection to Udall.
- Sewer work will close 18th Street from 11th Avenue to just east of the frontage road starting Dec. 26 and lasting through the end of January. Business and resident access will be maintained.
- On Wednesday, Dec. 27, a county contractor will begin milling, patching and crack sealing on East Sunrise Drive from North Swan Road to North Pima Canyon Drive. The work will take place in shifts from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will last through Jan. 5. Lane restrictions and reduced speeds will be in effect.