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Tucson Councilman Steve Kozachik: Tucson needs bigger clout in Regional Transportation Authority plan
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Tucson Councilman Steve Kozachik: Tucson needs bigger clout in Regional Transportation Authority plan

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The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

The 2006, voter-approved Regional Transportation Plan (RTA) is our 20-year regional transportation and mobility policy guide. It’s up for reconsideration in 2026, and like any piece of public policy, there are some “lesson’s learned” that we should not be afraid to address as we approach a reauthorization vote.

The city of Tucson is one of nine members to the RTA Board. Others include the various jurisdictions in the region, Pima County and the two tribal nations. Together that group meets to discuss and vote on implementation of the RTA plan. And currently that group is meeting to discuss possible changes the plan should include before it goes back to the voters.

In a guest opinion piece that Marana Mayor Ed Honea wrote that appeared in the May 28 Arizona Daily Star, he states “in order for the RTA to be successful, it must be accountable to the voters.” That is absolutely true, and over 40% of the voters who will participate in the reauthorization election live within the Tucson city limits. Without their strong support, any new RTA Plan will fail at the ballot box.

The Tucson mayor and City Council have raised some issues that are of concern to our constituents. One is that currently our vote on the RTA Board counts the same as every other jurisdiction’s vote. Despite our relatively greater proportionate contribution to the success of the plan, Tucson’s vote counts the same as that of Sahuarita, Oro Valley and the rest of the member jurisdictions.

Mr. Honea states the equal voting scheme is codified in statute. That’s true. And it’s also true that the statute he refers to becomes obsolete if the 2026 RTA vote fails. The RTA members can, and must, develop a means of allowing some form of weighted voting, as is done in Maricopa County, or Tucson is not fairly representing the interests of our constituents.

Tucson was asked to provide a project list so the RTA Board can evaluate it and decide on which projects will appear on the next ballot. Our list was to be equal in value to those of every other jurisdiction in the region. Mr. Honea states the Tucson list should indeed be subject to what he calls a “regional public process.”

In the alternative, let’s agree that Tucson should have no more voice in what Marana residents feel is important to their transportation needs than Marana residents should have in Tucson identifying our needs. Set a value for projects that reflects the relative tax contribution each jurisdiction provides to the Regional Plan and allow each jurisdiction to present its own list for voter consideration. That ensures we’re all presenting what we’re hearing from our local residents.

Another issue the Tucson City Council and mayor have identified as being necessary for us to support the new RTA Plan is dedicated funding for road repair. That’s completely missing from the current plan. All we’re doing is expanding capacity and not setting aside any money for maintenance.

In addition, we’ve stated the need for flexibility being built into the plan. Nobody can expect transportation needs and preferences to be the same 20 years from now as they are today.

Let’s avoid future Broadway expansion conflicts by including some latitude to respond to changing trends over time. Doing so will also allow us to react to financial challenges the RTA is facing and will continue to face. Tucson projects are currently underfunded by nearly $300 million. Our Mayor and City Council would be justifiably criticized by our residents if we failed to insist on fair treatment going forward.

The issues we’re insisting be open for discussion do not constitute the city “taking its ball and going home.” They do reflect our relative impact on the funding stream for the RTA, our insistence that our voice on the board respect that impact, and they reflect our expectation that at the sunset of the next RTA, the then Tucson mayor and City Council will not have to explain to their constituents why their needs were not addressed, even though their tax money funded those of surrounding jurisdictions.

As a region, that is not a conversation we should shy away from.

Steve Kozachik is a Ward 6 City Council member

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