Broadway Performance

The city re-examines the future of a central-city corridor

Mark Homan, vice president of the Rincon Heights Neighborhood Association, dreads the idea of widening Broadway Boulevard to eight lanes between downtown and County Club Road.

He fears the loss of businesses along the corridor. He worries about pedestrians crossing such a wide stretch of roadway. He doesn't want to see historic buildings bulldozed.

"Whatever we do there should make things better," Homan says. "We shouldn't have a project that just tries to minimize damage. That's a poor standard for shaping the future of our community."

Homan isn't alone in his concerns. He's been joined by Broadway merchants and property owners, neighborhood residents, mass-transit enthusiasts and others who want to see the city and the Regional Transportation Authority change the current plans for Broadway.

The critics of the Broadway-widening plans have a champion in Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik, who has spearheaded an effort on the Tucson City Council to reconsider the $71.3 million widening, which is part of a $2 billion, 20-year transportation plan approved by voters in 2006.

The current proposal, which is in a design phase that's expected to take two years, calls for six travel lanes, two dedicated bus lanes, bike lanes on both sides of the road, and a raised median.

To get that wider street, the city began planning in 1987 to demolish properties along the north side of Broadway. Since that plan was created 25 years ago, the city has been purchasing properties along Broadway with an eye toward the eventual widening.

But Kozachik questions the traffic projections that predicted an eight-lane Broadway would be necessary.

"It makes no sense to widen this thing beyond traffic-capacity needs," Kozachik says.

A similar Grant Road-widening effort will consider the importance of businesses along the way, and the road will snake back and forth from the north to the south. Kozachik wants to see the same consideration along Broadway.

"There's no reason we can't do creative design like that," Kozachik says.

Kozachik is pushing for a change in plans that would allow the road to remain within its current footprint. He says the street can still be widened to three lanes in each direction by reducing the width of each lane, scrapping the bus lanes, and taking the bike path off the street.

He says the sooner a decision is made about the future of the corridor, the sooner property owners along the street can make decisions about the future.

"It will bring certainty to businesses in the corridor," Kozachik says. "That's why it's important for us to make a public pronouncement about it."

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, who took office six months ago, agrees that Broadway widening deserves a closer look. Rothschild adds the city can't use a "cookie-cutter" approach to road projects through the city's core.

"I want to get to the right result," Rothschild says. "And I'm not sure what that is at this point."

As the city of Tucson's representative on the RTA's governing board, Rothschild has requested that the RTA staff look into the parameters for reducing the scope of a voter-approved project. (He also asked staff for a report on the possibility of getting some street-maintenance dollars from the RTA's pot of money.) The RTA board is expected to get those reports at a meeting on Thursday, June 14.

The city of Tucson is also creating a citizens' committee to examine the project and recommend how to move forward with it.

Pima County is supposed to provide $25 million to help cover the project's costs under a bond package approved by voters. Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry says the county has some problems with the bond package, because state lawmakers have been reducing the amount of gas taxes and other funds that are used to pay back the bonds, but the county is "probably good for it, but we're good for it in the longer term, not the shorter term."

Huckelberry, who is generally cautious about changing projects within the RTA plan, says he believes that reducing the Broadway project from eight to six lanes makes sense to him, because planners probably overestimated the traffic projections for the corridor.

He says reducing the scope of the project could save a significant amount of money, because purchasing the necessary real estate for the eight-lane widening made up a big chunk of the cost of the project.

But Huckelberry is skeptical that a six-lane road, along with a median and bike paths, could be done within Broadway's existing footprint.

"I don't know if you could or not, but that's what you do all these studies for," Huckelberry says.

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