Road Riddle

Council hopefuls pontificate on the parkway.

Last year, the traffic count on the Barraza-Aviation parkway near Broadway Boulevard was 11,500 cars per day, or about what Tucson Boulevard carries through the Sam Hughes neighborhood. To allow some of this traffic to move further west without having to go through downtown, the City of Tucson is planning to spend approximately $120 million to extend the parkway one mile to St. Mary's Road and I-10. The first phase of this project at Fourth Avenue, estimated to cost $14 million, is expected to be under construction next year.

We asked the City Council candidates, "Do you favor the expansion of Barraza-Aviation Parkway? Why or why not?"

· Democrat Paula Aboud: There are unresolved technical problems with the drainage of the downtown section; there is no clear, efficient destination, since the state has closed the access ramp at St. Mary's Road and I-10; there is not a current funding source. The half-cent sales tax would fund street maintenance and smaller projects, not the parkway. Another tax would need to be imposed to fund the completion. If the truth is that no one street will solve our traffic problems, is Tucson willing to fund a Grant Road and Valencia widening as well as the completion of the Aviation Parkway through additional taxes?

· Republican Kathleen Dunbar: Yes, I favor the expansion.

This is an example of the implementation of a part of a transportation plan that has been under way for quite some time. The City of Tucson is not spending $120 million on the parkway; the funding comes from the federal, state and county governments.

It will provide an efficient flow of traffic from the interstate system across our downtown area and connect the southeast and areas surrounding Davis Monthan Air Force Base with I-10. In addition, it will provide an efficient access for Greyhound buses in the downtown area and get them off the city streets.

· Democrat Vicki Hart: My general belief is that we should finish the projects we have planned for, allocated for and actually started. I believe that we should finish the Barraza-Aviation Parkway. But I believe it is imperative that in finishing the parkway, the agreements with the El Presidio neighborhood be honored.

Some agreements were that the portion that comes through El Presidio be narrowed to four lanes, the parkway not be built south of the existing curve in the Meyer Avenue, Sixth Street/St. Mary's area east of Main, that a mitigation sound wall be built, and that the two houses originally targeted to be torn down be saved from demolition.

· Libertarian Jonathan Hoffman: Allow me to restate your question: The Barraza Parkway is an abject failure as an east-west highway; so, is it smart to spend $120 million to make it one mile longer? Only government would see this as reasonable. Why doesn't the City sell the thing to the highest bidder? That way we can cut our losses, recover some money, and perhaps try again elsewhere. Who knows, maybe the new owner can make a viable highway out of the thing someday--with private venture capital. Whatever it becomes, the investments, expenditures and risks will be born by people participating voluntarily.

· Green Ted O'Neill: I work downtown. Traffic gets heavy at the Broadway/Fourth Avenue interchange, but the congestion is much worse in other areas of the city. Aviation Parkway expansion would be a waste of taxpayer money. The plan is 20 years in the making and has consistently met with community opposition. There are unfinished details of the plan that still need to be addressed, such as water drainage and diesel fuel clean-up along the train tracks. There is also the matter of raising nearly $67 million to pay for the plan. The $120 million would be better invested in road improvements or public transportation.

· Democrat Steve Leal: The roadway was not well thought-out in the first place. At different times the public was told that the road was to get people downtown, and some to I-10. At other times they were told most of the traffic was for I-10 and only some of it was for downtown.

You wouldn't spend money on bank protection where the river had changed its course. Let's really evaluate where our greatest needs are and spend our limited dollars on those places.

· Democrat Jesse Lugo: Yes, we need to complete the project. The Barraza-Aviation Parkway made sense 12 years ago, when my opponent first took office. It would have cost much less if the City Council had built it then. Now, after years of indecision and bungling, we have a choice. We cannot complete, wasting much of the money already spent, or bite the bullet to finish it quickly. When I am elected, I will not be afraid to make tough decisions when they are needed instead of just talking about problems and studying them to death.

· Democrat Gayle Hartmann: The original ADOT version was a disaster--it would have destroyed a few dozen structures and completely separated the downtown from the rest of Tucson. The current project is a vast improvement and at least certain portions should definitely be constructed. The Fourth Avenue project, which will eliminate the traffic bottleneck where the Fourth Avenue underpass/Congress Street/Broadway Boulevard come together and will connect Fourth Avenue with the downtown, is a real necessity. Also, we need to finally eliminate the at-grade railroad crossing on St. Mary's. The remainder is, indeed, extremely expensive and its value is more questionable.

· Republican Fred Ronstadt was unable to respond.