Broadway or Bust

Suspicions abound regarding the widening of a main thoroughfare

Way back in the 1940s, when limitless growth was still gospel, local big wheels first floated the notion of seriously widening Broadway Boulevard. That yearning was finally put to paper in 1987, when a study concluded that the street should be plumped to a span of 150 feet, from Euclid Avenue to Camino Seco.

In 2006, scaled-down ambitions to make Broadway eight lanes between Euclid Avenue and Country Club Road were approved by voters as part of a sweeping, 20-year regional-transportation scheme.

But the vast nature of that plan left out much of the fine print. It includes the fact that current Broadway-widening strategies are based on 25-year-old traffic projections that some consider flawed. Or that such construction will lead to the demolition of more than 100 homes, businesses and historic properties.

Then there's the price tag: Budgets for the project top $71 million, with $42 million of that coming from the Regional Transportation Authority; $25 million from Pima County transportation bonds; $1.2 million from the Pima Association of Governments; and $3 million from the city of Tucson.

Opposition to this costly juggernaut gained traction in April when Tucson City Councilman Steve Kozachik—whose Ward 6 encompasses the planned project—demanded that it be scaled back, and the costs limited to the RTA's $42 million share. He and others point out that simply acquiring right-of-way properties is estimated to cost more than $43 million.

The RTA, however, seems none too pleased with the idea of substantially tweaking the planned expansion, and has been coyly threatening that it could withhold its money should the Broadway revision venture too far astray.

Nor do RTA chieftains hide their disdain for a citizens' task force, convened by the city last spring to rehash Broadway's pending transformation.

"We have to recognize that each jurisdiction has its own way of approaching projects," says RTA transportation services director Jim DeGrood. "That's even in our administrative code—we support that the jurisdiction needs to go through public participation and citizen involvement to develop their project, to make decisions along the way. And this is the city's expression of it."

But expression or not, "I think we need to see what those changes are," he says. "I think they need to be fully vetted."

That last point could be taken any number of ways. Here's how DeGrood explains it: "Look, the city of Tucson requested that we include Broadway Boulevard in the (2006) RTA plan," he says. "The citizens who were involved in the formation of the plan supported it, and that's what was presented to the voters.

"If we want to go in a student-body left—in a completely different direction from 20 years of city direction, policy and land acquisition—that's certainly something the city can ask us to look at doing. From our standpoint, we have to go back and reconcile that against what we presented to the voters.

"Does that mean that every element, as it was exactly expressed in the very short (bond-election) description ... has to be adhered to? No, I don't think it says that. But I think the spirit of it has to be met."

Within that tense box, the citizens' task force has begun mulling its own preferences. But given the RTA's clenched fist, and the city's inclination to avoid a prolonged, regional brawl, some folks fret that the task force is merely a charade.

Those suspicions gained purchase at a June 20 public "listening session." Following the public meeting, a few participants complained that their written comments were massaged, bringing them more in line with the current plan. The consulting firm that collated those comments—Kaneen Advertising and Public Relations—vehemently denied the charges and provided the Tucson Weekly with examples of scrupulously reproduced points of discussion.

These allegations reveal a process already fraught with suspicion. That isn't helped, say critics, by the garden-party style of the meetings, where participants are parceled into small groups, with comments channeled along a series of well-polished themes.

Laura Tabili is a member of the Broadway Coalition, which opposes widening the road into an eight-lane behemoth. She recalls some "misinterpretations" from that June meeting. "And part of that was because of the format, in which people were not permitted to say what they had to say."

She describes a number of "facilitators" who compiled folks' comments on big, easel-mounted tablets. "It's like playing telephone," Tabili says, "because right there, there's a slippage between the meaning the person intended and what someone scrawls down on a piece of paper with a marker."

According to Tabili, there is some concrete benefit to these meetings—namely for the small army of consultants hired to run them. "One of our group called it 'consultant welfare,'" she says.

According to Jennifer Toothaker Burdick, manager of the Broadway Boulevard Project, the city will pay around $330,000 to at least a half-dozen consultants in the first eight months of this process. Among them is Nanci Beizer, hired to run the citizens' task-force meetings.

Several attempts to contact Beizer by press time were unsuccessful. But Tabili describes Beizer's steerage of a July task-force meeting in particular as "extremely heavy-handed," particularly when Beizer "bamboozled" the group—as Tabili puts it—into designating the facilitator as the de facto task-force chairwoman. That designation also collided with the city's own law regarding citizens' task forces: "The task force shall elect from its membership a chairperson and vice chairperson," reads the law, "who shall serve for terms of one year and may both be re-elected to those positions."

Seems pretty straightforward. Yet Toothaker Burdick says the City Clerk's Office gave her the green light to let Beizer take charge. But assistant city clerk Suzanne Mesich says she doesn't know where Toothaker Burdick got that interpretation, "since the law clearly states that the task force is to have a chairperson and a vice chairperson."

After a call from the Tucson Weekly, assistant city attorney Dennis McLaughlin says he informed Toothaker Burdick's department "that they need to advise the (task force) that they need to have a chair and a vice chair. They may be able to have a facilitator as well as a chairman. But the ordinance says what it says, and they need to follow the ordinance."

All of which does not bode well for a credible outcome to these Broadway-corridor meetings. And that's tragic, since only a transparent, honest process will prove that the city isn't just scheming to bulldoze its own citizenry—not to mention their homes and businesses.

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