Loop Leap

The new transportation plan would complete the Barraza-Aviation Parkway--at a cost of $300 million

What's the single most expensive item in the Regional Transportation Authority's newly released plan? Completing the little-used Barraza-Aviation Parkway, at a cost of more than $300 million--or more than 15 percent of the total $1.9 billion expected from a new half-cent sales tax over the next 20 years.

The RTA is now inviting citizen review of the draft, which is expected to be finalized later this year before going to voters next May.

The proposal calls for completing Barraza-Aviation's final mile through downtown, at a cost of roughly $100 million, as well as building a new, $200 million, 3.86-mile, limited-access thoroughfare that stretches south from Barraza-Aviation's current end near Golf Links Road and Alvernon Way to Interstate 10 near Valencia Road.

Supporters of the proposal say the two projects will complete an "inner loop" that will allow southeast-side residents--whose number is set to explode over the next two decades--to enter midtown destinations such as the UA by exiting Interstate 10 someplace other than downtown.

But critics say the $200 million price tag is too high to extend an underperforming corridor that has been a source of controversy since its conception. Originally pitched as a cross-town freeway, Barraza-Aviation has been downsized to a corridor that runs from the intersection of Golf Links and Alvernon to Broadway Boulevard at the eastern end of downtown.

"It would spending be $200 million on something that would actually increase congestion downtown, so it makes no sense at all," says Steve Farley, a graphic artist who sat on the RTA's citizen advisory committee that hammered out the plan.

A transit booster who is facing fellow Democrat Nina Trasoff in the September primary that will determine who will challenge City Councilman Fred Ronstadt in November, Farley hopes that citizen feedback will persuade the RTA to drop the project and shift $80 million to $90 million to "rapid-transit" bus service--which he describes as "tour-style buses that don't stop as much"--along Broadway between downtown and Houghton Road, and between Oro Valley and Green Valley.

Farley, who spearheaded an unsuccessful 2003 initiative effort that would have hiked sales and construction taxes to pay for light rail, more buses and repair of residential streets, says he's mostly pleased with the RTA's draft, which includes an urban streetcar project that would carry passengers between University Medical Center and downtown.

But he calls the Barraza-Aviation proposal a boondoggle "that came out of nowhere late in the process."

Farley argues that drivers from the southeast side can already use Alvernon Way or Palo Verde Boulevard to reach Barraza-Aviation, making the extension unnecessary. And given the city's recent decision to reduce Broadway Boulevard and Congress Street from three to two lanes, shuttling more traffic into downtown "seems like the most wrong-headed approach to transportation planning imaginable."

Supporters say two other parts of the RTA's Barraza-Aviation proposal will help ease pressure on Congress and Broadway, which are now ill-equipped to handle the traffic entering downtown from both Barraza-Aviation and Broadway.

The first is adding new on- and off-ramps joining Barraza-Aviation to 22nd Street while widening 22nd Street between Tucson Boulevard and Interstate 10, which could decrease the number of cars entering downtown to reach I-10.

The second is completing the last mile of Barraza-Aviation through downtown--a new four-lane arterial running alongside the Union Pacific Railroad tracks until it reaches an improved Sixth Street, at an estimated cost of $100 million, according the RTA plan.

City Transportation Director Jim Glock says the city is still determining the exact shape and route of Barraza-Aviation's final mile, which has long been one of Tucson's most controversial road proposals (see "Traffic Tie-Ups," June 2).

The city's most recent pitch, dubbed the Stevens Alignment, calls for a four-lane road on the north side of the railroad tracks, which would preserve the warehouses on the south side for use as artist studios.

Artist David Aguirre, who has worked with the city to preserve the warehouse district, says the city's plan "is better than the last version, which was better than the original version. We're trying to understand the impacts not only on the warehouse district but also on our friends in the neighborhood."

The city's plan dumps traffic onto Sixth Street near Stone Avenue--which, according the city's own projections, could create a new rush-hour bottleneck.

City Transportation Director Jim Glock says RTA money could be used to build a new underpass on Sixth Street that would carry traffic underneath the railroad tracks west of Stone Avenue. In addition to resolving chronic problems created by regular train crossings, the underpass would allow safe passage across Sixth Street for pedestrians and bike riders, according to Glock, who says the city will soon reviewing the plan with nearby neighborhoods.

Previews of those plans have already sparked grumbling in those nearby neighborhoods, which include the historic El Presidio and Dunbar-Springs districts.

"We're eager to reinstate the neighborhood dialogue in respect to these projects," says Glock. "We'll let the community process help guide us through this."

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