The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
Helen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” That is what I would remind my colleagues on the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) Board about the need to present an RTA Next plan that all our constituents can support.
Leadership should be about selflessness, compromise and bringing people together. We have sad evidence from the pandemic about what can happen when there are competing approaches for dealing with common problems. Our region and our people will not thrive if we fail to work together to address all the needs related to transportation that will be confronted moving forward. We have shared challenges and opportunities that cannot be taken on separately.
The most vital commitment each of the jurisdictions represented on the RTA Board can make is a pledge to honestly engage in the process of drafting the RTA Next plan. None of us should prejudge it, nor try to preordain the outcome.
We recently reappointed 23 members of the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) who have been laboring to put a plan together and will soon appoint 12 new members to bring the group back to its full membership. Our charge as leaders is to give these volunteers the resources and support needed to complete their work.
The RTA is a special taxing district authorized by the Arizona Legislature. Several years ago, the members of the RTA convinced state lawmakers to allow us to ask Pima County voters to either renew the existing half-cent sales tax, or to ask for an additional amount, up to a full penny. If that amount is approved by the electorate, it would generate approximately $5 billion over the 20-year life of the plan for our transportation needs. None of us could do that alone.
Our next plan must focus on more than roadway improvements if it is to fully serve our community into the future. For example, Pima County’s submission to the CAC addresses transit, the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians and innovative uses of technology to address both mobility and congestion. Any viable plan also needs to address maintenance of RTA projects.
Tucson is the business and cultural center of our region. Its residents constitute 52% of our population. Over 55% of the funds from the current RTA plan will be spent within the city limits, including over 62% of the money devoted to transit. The next RTA plan will be neither holistic nor worthy of support if it does not include Tucson and satisfies the needs and concerns of its residents.
Some city leaders have asserted that the current plan has shortchanged their residents, but that is clearly not the case. Although they are correct that most of the projects still to be completed are theirs, that is due to their requests. Moreover, over 90% of the remaining revenue from the current plan will be spent in Tucson. They are also asking to be guaranteed all they want in the next plan, but that would have serious effects on the integrity of the process for drafting it.
City leaders have also asked for a “weighted vote” that matches their population, drawing comparisons to similar arrangements on the Maricopa Association of Governments. That body includes 33 members and the “weighted vote” for the larger jurisdictions prevents the smaller ones from banding together and squelching their voice. In our county, with its nine members, a “weighted vote” for Tucson would give the city uncontestable veto power.
Our community overcame differences and divisions when we developed and passed the first RTA plan in 2006. We can accomplish the same with RTA Next if we do what we did then: Engage in an open, deliberative process that results in a plan that each jurisdiction can present to their residents with confidence and pride. There is too much at stake for us to fail to meet this challenge.
Pima County Supervisor Rex Scott is the county’s representative on the Pima Association of Governments Regional Council and the Regional Transportation Authority Board