Monday, March 23, 2015

Crisis of Confidence: City Transportation Staff Called Out on Double-Dealing

Posted By on Mon, Mar 23, 2015 at 5:00 PM

click to enlarge PHOTO BY TIM VANDERPOOL
  • Photo by Tim Vanderpool


The Broadway Boulevard Project suffered a meltdown last week, when several members of its Citizens Task Force—apparently convened to be a flock of sheep—finally revolted against their imminent fleecing.

At the packed meeting on March 19, they railed against being hoodwinked by city transportation planners, who had diligently gathered their suggestions over more than two years, and then just as earnestly cast those recommendations aside. Even worse, city officials had simply designed the six-lane roadway they wanted, and then pretended that it had come from the citizens group.

Task force team member Colby Henley sparked the insurrection, as he rifled through a duplicitous paper trail stacked across the the conference table before him. He pulled out one transportation department memo pledging that city planners would honor the task force’s call for two dedicated mass-transit lanes in the final Broadway widening plan. He hoisted another transportation memo to Tucson’s Mayor and City Council pledging the same thing. “But somewhere between the mayor and council and the (Regional Transportation Authority) briefings, that changed,” said Henley. “It was out of the sight of the public, and I still have not received an answer about when and who changed that.”

It turns out that city staffers quietly ditched the transit-lanes option when presenting their six-lane plan to the Regional Transportation Authority. (The RTA oversees funding for this and other projects under a sweeping road plan approved by voters in 2006. The agency has repeatedly demanded that Broadway be transformed into the car-dominated behemoth mandated by voters nearly 10 years ago, and based on faulty traffic projections concocted nearly 20 years before that.)

“…I think the public process is a bit of a charade right now,” Henley continued. “If we were told to design this roadway with no strings attached, after hearing what we’ve heard at all the public meetings, if you’ll remember, the number one concern was historic preservation. And yet the one historic district that abuts this roadway is taking the brunt of the demolitions.” That would be the Rincon Heights National Register Historic District, which Henley represents on the task force. Located north of Broadway it could lose some 40 buildings under the city staff’s jerry-rigged plan.

Several other task force members then chimed in angrily, complaining about the city’s bait-and-switch. The room erupted, as hired task force “facilitator” Nanci Beizer flapped ludicrously about, trying to shepherd the conversation towards numbing, consensual bliss. When Beizer finally stopped pleading, an ashen Jenn Toothaker—the city’s Broadway project co-manager—leaned into her mic to admit that, yes, city staffers had covertly scrapped the plan actually approved by the Citizens Task Force and the Mayor and Council.  And yes, all this deception was aimed at pleasing Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry and the RTA’s blade-and-pave crowd, both of whom have threatened to withhold funding unless they’re obeyed.

Contacted later, City Councilman Steve Kozachik—whose Ward 6 encompasses the Broadway project—said that Broadway project officials had squandered their credibility. “I told them this was going to implode on them, and it has. The city has come to expect citizens task forces to take the direction of staff and consultants and just follow along on a leash. But this group has finally stepped up and said, ‘Our name is on this.’ They have a right to demand of the city that whatever comes out of this task force—whether or not the RTA likes it, whether the county likes it, whether the mayor and council likes it— needs to reflect the will of the task force and what they’ve heard from the public.”

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