RTA and County Should Heed Community’s Vision for Broadway Project
By Robert Cook , June 8, 2014
This is the June 8th Sunday Arizona Daily Star Guest Opinion without the Star’s edits. Note the Star’s edited headline is: “8-Lane Roadway No Longer Makes Sense.”
The two-year design phase of the Broadway Boulevard, Euclid to Country Club Project is reaching its final months. And not without controversy over funding and design elements. A successful outcome will require broad agreement between the Regional Transportation Authority, Pima County, Tucson Mayor and Council, and the many community stakeholders including residents, businesses, and visitors along Tucson’s historic Sunshine Mile and west to downtown.
The Broadway redesign is a bellweather project that will set a highly visible precedent for regional planning in the decades to come. The result of this process will signal to what degree local government is willing and able to scale infrastructure projects to actual needs and preferences. Importantly, the design outcome will be an indicator whether the region can flexibly adapt to significant changes in our economy, demographics, urban design standards, energy and resource costs, and serious Southwest climate change.
From the beginning, the City-appointed Citizens Task Force and the Broadway Coalition have questioned the wisdom of rigidly following the 2006 ballot language specifying a 150ft-wide, 8-lane roadway. This would require removal of more than 115 existing buildings in the right-of-way. Such acquisition and demolition would cost in excess of $42M, not counting the lost tax base these historic properties represent.
The 2006 RTA Plan was based on inflated traffic projections. The actual, lower traffic volumes have changed very little in the past two decades. The major question has been why expand car lane capacity when recent studies show that people are increasingly shifting to other modes of mobility. Should our limited public funds be invested in unnecessary infrastructure?
Community stakeholders support a maximum 100ft. width design that could accommodate a 5-lane option with significant pedestrian, bicycle and transit improvements which also anticipate future high capacity transit. The high capacity system would serve both local and suburban demand to the east and could be partially funded by the savings from eliminating 50 feet in right-of-way and construction costs and the tax revenues from increased destination business activity.
One only needs to look at the transformational investments along the Modern Street Car line including UMC, UA Maingate, West University, Downtown and the westside Mercado District to see that vibrant urban change and economic activity can happen without widening roadways.
Transit-oriented development not only preserves historic values but is currently the most successful type of development in Tucson. Visually beautiful places where people walk, bike, meet, and share life is what the new as well as older generations are demanding in urban settings where growth is occurring.
The research supporting the 100ft. width is robust. Rapid suburban population growth is no longer the key to future prosperity because of higher resource costs and climate impacts as well as the preference for urban living by the new “millennial” generation. Safety is also a big issue for roadway design. The U. S. currently spends nearly $900B per year due to automobile-related accidents.
The rising cost of oil itself looms large as a design factor. This impacts both road fuels and asphalt prices. The truth is that we built our economy on $20/barrel oil and we are now in the era of $100+ oil. Per capita driving behavior since World War II shows continuous increase until 2005 when it began its current slide downward.
It is time for the RTA, County, and City to actually address the realities of the emerging 21st Century and let go of 2006 assumptions and the wishful thinking that everything will return to the world of 10 years ago.
What’s needed now is a significant change of heart to match the serious choices ahead.
Robert Cook, a 50-year resident of Pima County, is a two-term member of the RTA Citizens’ Accountability for Regional Transportation Committee, Past-chair of the Tucson-Pima County Metropolitan Energy Commission, and current member of the Pima County Planning & Zoning Commission. Robert co-founded Sustainable Tucson in 2006 with many other committed neighbors. Email him at email@example.com.
The public is invited to the final Broadway Boulevard Planning Forum on Thursday, June 12th: 5:00 – 8:00pm, Sabbar Shrine Hall, 450 S. Tucson Blvd