Highway Man

Federico Sanchez, a self-described "native Tucsonan in his 50s," is pushing a plan developed by his friend, Hank Savko, whom he calls "possibly the best Corvette mechanic in the United States." The two men have a modest proposal: five lanes of freeway in each direction running along the Pantano and Rillito riverbeds from Interstate 10 and Houghton Road to I-10 and Orange Grove Road. In the center of the freeway would be a light rail system, and on the outside would be trails for pedestrians and horse riders. The whole thing would be built on massive concrete pipes that would line the riverbeds and double as a CAP recharge project. The plan also includes a water park. The project, says Sanchez, is about "taking an ugly wash and turning it into a beautiful and useful freeway."

Why a freeway in the riverbeds?

One, it's a natural roadway. It's already there. ... It will create a loop for Tucson, minimize the traffic on I-10 and ease the congestion, and avoid the costly bisecting of the community and the destruction of businesses and homes and all that stuff that's really not necessary.

And you'd also include a light rail component?

Yeah. This whole idea is basically Hank Savko's brainchild. ... What Hank envisions is a light rail system at the center of the freeway, and it would loop at Orange Grove and run along one of the banks of the Santa Cruz River and hook up to downtown and Rio Nuevo, should it ever develop. ...

It's amazing. When you go to the river, the width is huge. It's deceiving when you look at it, and I think in some places, you might have to widen it, but you could actually put four or five lanes in either direction with a light rail in the center. And then you pump CAP water up to Houghton, and then you create a water recreational center for people in that vicinity.

What do you imagine the price tag for this whole project would run?

Jim Glock, the city's transportation director, made some reference to, I think he said, half a billion dollars for just the interchanges. You know, I'm not sure. It may take a couple billion. ...

How do you think the money should be raised for something like this?

I would probably revisit the half-cent city sales tax, and then I'd create a new county sales tax. I don't think there's one now, so they'd probably go to the Legislature to approve a majority vote as opposed to a unanimous vote.

I guess I would go with a tax on magazines, alcohol, beer, liquor and cigarettes. Then I'd ask the feds for assistance and ask the state, and I think I would possibly ask Oro Valley to create a quarter-cent sales tax, kind of like a user fee, because they'll be using it, and it will benefit them. I'm sure they'd have to take it to the voters also. I'd have Marana do the same thing. ... The project itself might be a billion to $1.5 billion, but if it's not done now, it will double or triple.

Why a tax on magazines?

I just thought that up. I guess you really wouldn't have to. I guess you could rely on the old-fashioned sin taxes and avoid magazines.

So what's been the reaction to city officials?

(Ward 4 City Councilwoman) Shirley Scott has been receptive. We met with (Ward 2 City Councilwoman Carol West, who was initially receptive, but later, she became a little indifferent. Her position was, 'Hey, this is Tucson; there's no such thing as freeways.' Me, being a native Tucsonan, I agree; I don't want or care for freeways, and I don't care for growth. But at some point, we're going to have to bite the bullet, and this is the least of all evils. ... I think it's pretty practical.

We met with Shirley Scott's transportation committee. ... At the end of the meeting, (Assistant City Manager) Benny Young instructed Jim Glock to conduct a feasibility study. I'm only assuming that Mr. Young liked the idea, or he wanted to see if it was possible, or maybe he was just being respectful to a citizen who brings up an idea. Basically, Jim Glock presented a brief administrative review, which in our estimation was unacceptable. He was given a directive, and the guy never came through. He just took it upon himself to make a major decision.

Do you think there's a lack of imagination over there in the transportation department?

Oh, totally. Total lack of imagination. You know, Jim Glock has to have some imagination and some vision. You can't just really just be a yes man and follow what other people do. You've got to be creative. He seems like a nice guy, but I don't think he's user-friendly.

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