Hold, Please

An update on some of 2005's hot-button stories

The phrase "still pending" aptly summarizes a bunch of 2005 local stories. As the old year wanes, Tucson awaits resolution on many issues.

A few months ago, the city requested bids for a new Fourth Avenue underpass ("The Price Ain't Right," Oct. 13). The only problem was, the lone proposal was 50 percent higher than the $20 million budget.

Intending to seek more affordable offers, the city of Tucson has broken the project into two phases. In addition, instead of asking for normal bids, next time, the city will be using a safer "Construction Manager at Risk" process.

Significant cost reductions have been identified, according to Brooks Keenan of Tucson's Transportation Department. He says by limiting cleanup of petroleum contamination to only where it has been located on the site, along with the municipal government, and not the contractor, guaranteeing some of the work, almost $3 million can be saved. Plus, he adds, if other items need to be cut from the project, street car tracks and a pedestrian bridge could be axed.

Planning to solicit proposals shortly, Keenan hopes the first-phase utility-relocation work can be finished next summer--about when construction on the long-delayed underpass might finally begin.

While a new underpass has been contemplated for at least a decade, completing the last mile of downtown's Barraza-Aviation Parkway has been controversial since the early 1980s. A proposal to alter the route to the north side of the railroad tracks ("Traffic Tie-Ups," June 2) is now being studied in more detail by a citizen's committee, but it hasn't made much progress.

"A lot of nowhere this fall for the study," concludes committee member and downtown artist David Aguirre.

Consideration of replacing the current arena at the Tucson Convention Center ("Arena Arithmetic," July 7) is also moving along slowly. The results of a financial analysis of the proposal to build a privately managed facility are expected next month; they'll then be taken to the City Council for a decision. "We'll see if we can afford to build it," says Rich Singer of the TCC, "and where the money would come from."

Near the intersection of 36th Street and La Cholla Boulevard west of downtown, another development proposal remains on hold. Having convinced one builder not to seek high-density residential zoning for a small piece of desert, ("On Rock and a Hard Place," March 3), residents of the area heard about a different possibility a few months ago.

After a meeting which she describes as "ornery," nearby resident Connie Harris indicates the developer hasn't called again. "We don't (even) know what the proposal is," she explains.

Also waiting to hear is attorney Steven Sandoval. His client won an $80,000 retaliation judgment against a Tucson Water employee in May ("Informant's Revenge," June 9). Despite that, Sandoval's attempts to have the city of Tucson pay his client as well as his own legal fees remain tied up in federal court.

Addressing local zoning and other land-use conflicts, the Neighborhood Infill Coalition proposed a series of recommendations to the City Council earlier this year ("Infill Issues," Feb. 24). As a subcommittee of Tucson's Planning Commission considers these ideas, Tracy Williams of the coalition is satisfied with the progress being made, even though she characterizes the process as "plodding along."

Even more satisfactory to Williams was the result of the November election, which changed the makeup of the City Council. "With new leadership," Williams says gleefully, "the city staff understands they have to do (this stuff). It will be a good new year for Tucson."

Also meeting to try and resolve their differences are representatives of Tucson Water and the town of Marana. Both wanted to acquire a small allocation of Central Arizona Project water from the Flowing Wells Irrigation District, and Tucson threatened to condemn the tiny company if it didn't get its way ("Flowing Wells Fallout," March 10).

That controversial proposal was eventually dropped, and Tucson and Marana continue to negotiate over the CAP water. "We're trying to find a win-win situation," say Mitch Basefsky of Tucson Water. "Hopefully, something fruitful will result this spring."

Demolition of the existing Martin Luther King apartment tower downtown ("Housing Hassle," Jan. 6) may also happen by June to accommodate the installation of new housing, with both subsidized and market-rate units. Using almost $10 million in federal funds, along with $9 million in tax credits, the Congress Street project is currently planned to be under construction by September.

A new 150-foot hospital tower at Tucson Medical Center won't be built by then, but after long delays, plans for the concept are moving gradually forward ("Medical Melodrama," April 14). While some of its neighbors remain uneasy about the idea of replacing the existing one-story facility with a high-rise, TMC should be submitting an area plan amendment to the city next week, and anticipates a public hearing before the City Council in the spring. If that process is successful, a rezoning of the property would then have to be accomplished.

While TMC's plans remain up in the air, closure was reached on another medical front in 2005. Eight months ago, the state of Arizona was not complying with a law which required it to publish up-to-date cost comparisons between hospitals ("Medical Misinformation," April 7). But now, on the Arizona Department of Health Services Web site, the information is available, so prospective patients can see that a private room costs $1,092 at St. Mary's Hospital, $802 at El Dorado and $980 at Northwest Medical Center in Oro Valley.

Another successful outcome was achieved in the case of removing two illegal billboards near Tucson Mall ("Board Games," Oct. 6). Both signs are gone now, and Tucson Development Services Director Ernie Duarte, knows why. "They came down as a result of a letter (to Bourn Partners)," he states, "in which we said they would result in a zoning violation if they stayed up. I think that got their attention." In response, a claim for damages reportedly has been filed against the city.

Also finally getting attention was Darla Norrish of the Tucson Pet Cemetery. Early in the year, she claimed KB Home had improperly confiscated some land over which she had a recorded easement, and the city of Tucson let the builder get away with it ("Easement Issues," Feb. 3).

After persisting, Norrish apparently reached an agreement with the home-building giant. Access to her property is now along a paved, landscaped roadway bordered by a riprap drainage channel.

When asked what the settlement included, all Norrish could legally say was: "The matter has been resolved."