Transportation Tally

City leaders get failing grades in their efforts to improve transit problems.

AFTER LAST YEAR'S SALES tax election debacle, those of us who organized the Enough! campaign to oppose the measure composed a letter to Mayor Bob Walkup.

In it, we outlined nine steps which we thought needed to be taken to improve Tucson's transportation system while attempting to restore public trust in local government.

In reviewing the impact of the letter almost 12 months later, it isn't surprising that not much has been accomplished. So let's grade the results based on its recommendations:

1. Walkup and City Manager James Keene should apologize for the expensive "educational" campaign the city waged before the vote. As Enough! founder John Kromko says, "They wasted a million dollars on a plan nobody wanted." But the apology was never issued, so they get an F.

2. Grade-separated interchanges inside the city limits need to be dropped from the Regional Transportation Plan of the Pima Association of Governments. That plea has apparently been heard, and in a few months, the PAG board will consider eliminating almost all of these cost-prohibitive monstrosities. That hasn't happened yet, though, so this grade is a B.

3. Small-cost steps such as the increased use of staggered work hours and more incentives for car-pooling and mass transit should be implemented. Before the election, former City Council candidate Dave Fossdal sent the city a long list of inexpensive ideas, but never got a response. He concludes: "We have a nonresponsive government that will go in the direction the bureaucrats tell them to go." Grade the city a D.

4. Serious consideration should be given to eliminating the proposed last mile of the Barraza-Aviation Parkway. The planning for this high-cost dinosaur of a project is helping kill what little is left along the northern edge of downtown--but nobody in City Hall seems willing to pull the plug on this unnecessary roadway. They get an F.

5. It is essential the city be creative in developing the required matching funds for at least some of the 1997 Pima County road bond funded projects inside the city limits. But instead of doing that, the City Council simply asked the Board of Supervisors to phase the projects so the city didn't have to come up with any money right now. That suggestion was obviously going to be unacceptable--and the city gets an F for even asking. Tens of millions of dollars are at stake here, and the City Council better get serious about this particular issue, or all the funds will disappear.

6. A reasonable residential transportation impact fee needed to be adopted immediately. But instead, the council directed a study be done--and the process is not expected to be completed until April 2004. For stalling while forsaking the millions that could have been collected, the council receives an F.

7. Tucson should ask the Legislature to index the state gas tax to the rate of inflation. These new funds could then be used for either road construction or street maintenance. But the council only made a tepid request for "resources to meet the transportation infrastructure needs of communities," thus deserving a D.

8. A public committee should be appointed to interview candidates for the long-vacant job of director of transportation. Keene, however, chose Jim Glock for the position, and he is someone who has worked in the department for years and is well known throughout the community. So the city gets an A on this one.

9. Finally, the City Council and staff needed to listen to people, not just dictate traffic solutions to them. After the election, Mayor Walkup held a series of town hall meetings focused on transportation.

Small businessman Britton Dornquast thinks this started a process of dialogue that has been beneficial. Despite the rancor that grew out of the election campaign, he believes some positives have resulted since.

But Walkup is now pushing the decades-old idea of a Regional Transportation Authority as a solution. There are also rumblings that yet another sales tax election might be tried in Pima County.

"The City Council isn't creating ideas the community supports," Enough! member Paula Aboud says. Bonnie Poulos, another from the group adds, "They've basically done nothing."

Those perceptions--combined with the fact that since 1986 voters have three times overwhelmingly turned down ballot propositions to increase the sales tax to pay for transportation projects--should tell government officials something. Maybe they should start looking for other funding sources while trying to implement some small steps to improve traffic and maintain our streets. For these mixed results, they are awarded a C.

The final report card doesn't look good: Four F's, two D's, a C, a B, and an A. While Tucson's streets continue to deteriorate and traffic problems increase, our leaders persist in looking at rejected funding sources and outdated transportation solutions. Because of that, they truly deserve a failing grade.