Red Tape Run Amok

Downtown's Rio Nuevo isn't the only interminably delayed government project

The snail's pace of implementing Rio Nuevo improvements has nothing on several other long-anticipated projects around Tucson. They're either stuck in funding limbo, or have disappeared completely.

Six years ago, officials predicted that construction of detention basins along Arroyo Chico west of Kino Parkway would be completed by the end of 2003 (See "Awash in Controversy," Oct. 5, 2000). That didn't happen. The current hope is work can begin next May and be finished by 2009.

"We're ready," says Suzanne Shields, director of Pima County's Flood Control District, "but you can't build half a project." She says plans and specifications are done, but funding for the project isn't yet in place.

Last November, Shields explains, Congress gave the Army Corps of Engineers $10 million of the needed $18 million. But since it will take two years to complete the drainage basins and other improvements, and the federal government usually only budgets for projects one year at a time, the remainder hasn't yet been approved.

"We'd like to get the funding to build the detention basins all at once," Shields says. To do that, instead of waiting on Congress to act further, Pima County officials hope to use an administrative process to secure approval to proceed with the entire project.

Designed to reduce the risk of flooding while enhancing the environmental character of Arroyo Chico, which runs south of Broadway Boulevard, the detention basins are the second phase of a project which started being discussed 15 years ago. The first phase was completed in 1996 with the construction of detention basins on the Del Urich Golf Course.

The long delay since then hasn't bothered Ted Warmbrand, a nearby resident and outspoken critic of the unfinished project. While many of his neighbors support the proposed basins, Warmbrand has serious reservations about their impacts.

"It looks like (officials) are separated from reality," Warmbrand says. "They think if they envision it, it will happen, but the promises they make have little relationship to the results."

Warmbrand also describes the constant shifting of government employees who have been involved with the Arroyo Chico project as "discombobulating."

"It's almost like they want to confuse everybody," Warmbrand says, "and it looks like it's being done on purpose."

Six years ago, Jacky Turchick, Warmbrand's wife, had concerns the basin project was moving too fast. Wanting more time so a related environmental cleanup effort could be completed first, Turchick said then: "We have time. We don't have to rush."

That has certainly proved to be true with the Arroyo Chico project. As Turchick now comments: "The longer it takes, the better."

Several blocks to the north, another long-delayed improvement is inching forward. For many years, the city of Tucson and University of Arizona have planned to change Tyndall Avenue between Sixth Street and University Boulevard into a landscaped attraction. So far, it hasn't happened.

Five years ago (See "Built to Order," Aug. 30, 2001), planners called the project a "zipper" that would unite the west side of campus, and they hoped the project could be completed by the summer of 2003.

Today, the street is still a common-looking roadway, and the planned changes are stuck in a lengthy environmental review process that won't be finished for six more months. Because of that, no construction schedule exists, and all UA planners will say is that once approval is received, final plans for the work can be prepared.

That is more than can be said for another UA proposal. When the Christopher City complex, which housed graduate students along with families on Tucson's northeast side, was torn down years ago because of mold infestation, indications were given the units would eventually be replaced near the campus.

In some respects, that was done for graduate students in a university-owned apartment complex on Euclid Avenue. But the low-cost housing for students with children, which was lost with the 2000 closure of Christopher City, hasn't been restored.

Former complex resident Jake Elkins anticipated that outcome five years ago. He stated then that the UA kicked people out of Christopher City not because of health concerns, but to make a fast buck off the sale of the attractively located property.

While some public-private partnerships have been discussed over the years to rectify the loss of UA student-family housing, nothing came of them. "The problem is a site," says Pam Obando of the University's Residence Life office. "We've not been able to locate anything that works."

Also having gone nowhere were plans for improving Fifth/Sixth Street (See "Uneasy Street," March 2, 2000). More than six years ago, with great fanfare, the city of Tucson launched an expensive planning process for the roadway, which carries less than 20,000 vehicles a day east of Country Club Road, but almost 27,000 through the UA campus area.

After extensive public participation about the future function of the street, a divide developed between those who thought it should remain a four-lane thoroughfare, and those who favored reducing it to two lanes with dedicated bus lanes.

As a result, the plan was never presented to the City Council for adoption, and today, Fifth/Sixth Street looks like it did in 2000.

As one participant in the process said back then: "These meetings are like Christmas wish lists. You know most of these things won't get done."

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