Thursday, March 19, 2015

Broadway Widening Opponents Dig in for the Final Stretch

Posted By on Thu, Mar 19, 2015 at 2:30 PM

Sunrise has just cracked the Rincon Mountains, as Mark Homan and Madeline Ryder push one last sign into the soggy ground. It’s a series of signs, really, written in clever rhymes and leading to this crescendo: “Don’t Super Size Broadway.”

That would be Broadway Boulevard, the roadway roaring alongside us, dampened by rain and thick with early morning commuters. We’re here because, way back in 2006, voters approved plans to make Broadway eight lanes just between Euclid and Country Club Roads, as part of a sweeping, 20-year region transportation scheme.

To widening opponents such as Homan and Ryder, this plan is rife with potholes. For one, current Broadway-widening strategies are based on 25-year-old traffic projections that some considered flawed to begin with. There’s also the likelihood that such construction could lead to the demolition of more than 100 homes, businesses and historic properties.

Then comes the process itself. To give this pivotal project the veneer of public participation, Tucson’s transportation department convened a citizens task force to help devise the new alignment. It soon became obvious, however, that the task force’s major job was gnawing free sandwiches before each meeting, and offering thoughtful suggestions which city leaders could promptly ignore.

But Tucson officialdom was only one force buffeting these poor volunteers. Another was the Regional Transportation Authority, created by the same 2006 vote, and mandated to oversee the numerous road projects. Since the Broadway planning began, the RTA has largely busied itself with issuing veiled threats to the task force, lest its citizens opt to shrink the project’s massive footprint. Not to be left out of the scuffle, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry also threatened to withhold the county’s $25 million contribution if the project didn’t stay, well, super-sized.

And true to form, last month city transportation staffers released a plan that seems destined to please no one; while squeezing the project from eight lanes down to six, it still includes the demolition of nearly 40 buildings, many of which are historic. The Citizens Task Force will meet to review that plan at 5:30 p.m. today in the Our Saviour's Lutheran Church, 1200 N. Campbell Ave. The public is invited.

This morning, Homan smiles wryly as he inspects his roadside handiwork. He says money may ultimately achieve what mere citizen opposition so far has not, pointing out that the entire project is budgeted at $71 million, while just acquiring properties necessary for the expansion could cost more than half of that. And all before a shovelful of asphalt hits earth. Meanwhile, city planners are still swinging merrily down their six fat lanes. “I think they’re living in a parallel universe,” he says.

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