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Local Opinion: City roadways need modernization not expansion

Local Opinion: City roadways need modernization not expansion

  • Updated

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

Thank you, Sam Kmack, for your article on Dec. 26 about the treacherous First Avenue corridor between Grant and River roads. We recall reports in the Daily Star on Nov. 24 detailing two more needless deaths on that roadway and thought this street can’t be fixed soon enough.

With the adoption of the design guidelines from the Complete Streets Program and Move Tucson, there are now guidelines for improving the safety, comfort, aesthetics and traffic flow on First Avenue, as well as other roadways throughout the city, without adding travel lanes. A Complete Streets modernization will add enhanced bike lanes, sidewalks along the entire three-mile corridor, improved pedestrian crossings that meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, street lighting, bus shelters and upgraded signalization at intersections. These improvements will make traveling along First Avenue safer for all users.

Fortunately, there is $74 million allocated in the current Regional Transportation Authority plan to modernize this corridor. However, the RTA plan calls for a six-lane expansion, which will cost almost $20 million more than what is budgeted. The estimated costs in the RTA plan have never been adjusted for inflation, although that is required by the RTA bylaws. Given the huge shortfall in RTA funds and the commitment by the RTA Board to provide funding only to the ballot amount in 2006 dollars, the city of Tucson would be on the hook for that additional $20 million.

The city of Tucson’s Department of Transportation and Mobility did an extensive analysis of the three-mile portion of First Avenue between Grant and River roads that determined an expansion to six lanes is no longer needed, nor wanted. Not only have the traffic volume increases projected in 2006 not materialized, but the traffic volume has decreased since 1998.

The businesses and residents along this corridor favor a four-lane roadway by a 2-1 ratio. A countywide survey of residents also showed a 2-1 preference for four lanes. In addition, the Complete Streets Coordinating Council and the Tucson City Council voted unanimously in support of the four-lane option.

The four-lane option with the Complete Streets amenities, safety features and multimodal access can be built for the budgeted amount of $74 million without diminishing any of the functionality of the roadway and providing uniformity along the entire First Avenue corridor from Grant Road to Orange Grove and south along Euclid.

This should be a no-brainer, so what’s the problem? Some members of the RTA board are hesitant to change the scope of the First Avenue project. They appear to want Tucson to build a six-lane roadway because it was the project scope promised in the 2006 plan and the RTA must do what was promised no matter the need or the cost. Decisions by the RTA Board should be made based on facts and data, not out of fear of public perceptions and long-ago promises.

Needless to say things change in 15 years. We’re pretty sure the planners in 2006 didn’t foresee or plan for a recession, a pandemic, an insurrection or climate change. Technology has advanced, providing new ways to move people efficiently without expanding roadways. Area residents are seeking more multimodal options for local transportation, but with safety as the No. 1 priority. A 20-year plan must be flexible and adjustable to meet current conditions and priorities.

We support responsible government that spends taxpayer dollars wisely to meet the current needs of its constituents. Expanding a road to an urban highway through a densely populated part of the city of Tucson because it was proposed over a decade ago is wasteful and government overreach. Please let your elected officials know that your preference for urban roadways are roads that meet the needs of all the users, not just automobiles, and that Move Tucson is the right plan for the future of transportation in Tucson.

Ruth Reiman is the co-chair of the city of Tucson Complete Streets Coordinating Council. Jane Evans is the owner of the Plants for the Southwest and president of the Keeling Neighborhood Association.

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