Monday morning brought two rarities to the desert—a rainy sub-70-degree day in May and news that Pima County has set money aside for road repairs. Given the dusty conditions, we desperately needed both.
After reading the piece in the Star, which lays out how the county is coming up with the $26 million without raising taxes, my first thought was obviously “Well, it’s about time!” and my second thought was … selfish.
I thought about how wonderful it would be for the county to start with the routes I personally commute the most. I envisioned the serenity of driving in a straight line instead of dodging potholes, and the silence of smooth roads.
But, then I took a moment to think about where the county would see the biggest return on its $26 million investment—on our $26 million dollar investment.
As odd as it may sound, the best way for us Pima County residents — the ones who not only pay property taxes and elevated sales taxes year round, but also have to drive on these roads on a daily basis — to get the most return for our tax dollars is to think about the roads that our visitors use most often.
It is easy to think of the tourism industry as our city’s way of making a quick buck. Visitors come for Sabino Canyon, Old Tucson, a chimichanga at El Charro Café, and then leave. And that’s true, if you consider the $593 million Tucson’s visitors directly spent in 2017, or the over $16 million in Local Tax Revenue that that spending generated, “a quick buck.”
But, even thinking about Tucson’s visitors as an important tax revenue line item is still shortsighted. You see, every car pulling off I-10 or plane landing at Tucson International Airport represents opportunity.
They are site selectors deciding if they will bring a few hundred jobs to Tucson or another city. They are food journalists considering if their trip to Tucson was worth writing about, or soon-to-be-retirees ready to fall in love with either Tucson or Scottsdale.
They are a young family that will either feel tentative about their future in Tucson and renting or falling in love with this city and buying. They were YOU a few years ago when you visited Tucson for the first time.
While road conditions seem like a trivial factor, when Resonance (the tourism consultant group working with Visit Tucson) surveyed visitors about what they disliked about Tucson, one of the most common issues was “road conditions.”
Considering the fragile momentum Tucson’s economy has built in recent years, it would be pathetic if we continued to allow our roads to hold us back.
Pima County currently has a backlog of road repairs estimated around $800 million, and it isn’t every day Pima County budgets for road repairs. So we would be wise to encourage them to consider investing our $26 million into areas that will help pay for the remaining $774 million, by targeting the most visitor-traveled stretches of roads first.
Stretches like Speedway between the I-10 and campus, Oracle between Miracle Mile and the Tucson Mall, and the stretches of Valencia or Benson Highway that lead visitors into town from the airport.
These are some of our visitors’ first (and sometimes only) experiences in Tucson. Wouldn’t it be wise to make those roads some of the nicest? As I wrote in a previous piece, first impressions matter. Pima County has a chance to help ours. The question is, will we?