The Last Mile

Opponents fight the proposed completion of the Barraza-Aviation Parkway, which could uproot businesses and artist studios.

Snaking its way across the northern edge of downtown, the proposed last mile of the Barraza-Aviation Parkway--if ever built--would leave a trail of destruction in its path. Thus, the city is considering calls to re-visit at least part of the roadway's alignment, while opponents of the project continue to urge the whole idea to be scrapped.

Adopted more than 10 years ago, the planned route for the four-lane road is on the north side of the railroad from Broadway Boulevard to Sixth Avenue. At Sixth, it weaves to the south side of the tracks before one leg of it turns north again at Stone Avenue. From there, it runs westward until petering out on St. Mary's Road near Interstate 10.

While work may begin sometime later this year on the first phase of the downtown parkway (See "Leave the Driving to Us," Jan. 22), the remainder of the roadway alignment remains controversial. If constructed, the estimated $120 million, one-mile project would require the demolition of some historic warehouses which are now used as artist studios. In addition, in some places, the road would be 9 feet below existing street level, thus leaving many other artist-occupied buildings completely inaccessible.

Hired to prepare recommendations to improve the downtown warehouse district, architect Corky Poster said at a recent meeting, "We shouldn't bother doing any long-range planning for the district if this (current plan) is the roadway alignment." Instead, Poster urged the city of Tucson to look at running the parkway exclusively along the north side of the railroad tracks between Broadway and Sixth Street.

This idea had previously been discussed internally by city officials, and despite more than 10 years of dedication to the existing plan, they were reportedly receptive to the change. "We've heard a lot of criticism of the adopted route," says Kim McKay of the Transportation Department.

Citing the current plan's age and high cost of implementation, along with a general lack of money for transportation projects, McKay says it might be time for a re-think. "Maybe its time to re-visit it and make it smaller and gentler," she says.

Among the potential advantages of re-routing the roadway completely along the north side of the railroad tracks include a lower price tag, saving some historic warehouses and not having to replace the Stone Avenue underpass.

Given those benefits, why wasn't this idea considered before? It was considered, according to Gene Caywood, longtime member of the city's Barraza-Aviation Citizens Advisory Committee.

"It makes for a difficult connection at Sixth Street and Stone," Caywood says of the five-point intersection that could be created by the addition of the Aviation traffic there. Plus, he adds, when planning the parkway more than a decade ago, the committee was seeking to save the historic Tucson Laundry building, which has since burned down.

To study the possibility of realigning the parkway, the consulting firm Entranco is being paid $105,000. Over the next several months, they will prepare engineering alternatives that will look at the traffic, social and other impacts of altering the route.

Pointing out that 70 percent of current traffic just wants to drive through downtown to get elsewhere, project manager Mike Bertram says his company will devise a series of options which would allow some of those motorists to bypass the area by using the parkway. Public meetings will be held by this summer on the alternatives, and Bertram hopes to have a recommendation, along with a cost estimate for the project, completed by fall.

When this idea was presented to the city's citizens advisory committee two weeks ago, they unanimously supported looking into the revised alignment. Others, however, are less favorable toward the concept, pointing out that it still runs a wide ribbon of asphalt through the center of the downtown warehouse district.

Lucy Mitchell is co-owner of Small Planet Bakery; for 30 years, the business has operated out of an old building on the north side of the railroad tracks along Seventh Avenue. A change in the route of the roadway would doom her business, and Mitchell believes it is a really lousy idea. Instead, she thinks the parkway should simply end where it does now, at Broadway Boulevard.

A longtime opponent of the last-mile project, John Kromko, agrees. "In all these years the city has been pushing it, I've never found anybody that wants it built. Its just a waste of taxpayers' money. Always has been; always will be," he says.

In order to protect historic buildings in the area from demolition, the Tucson-Pima County Historical Commission has also endorsed the idea of killing the roadway project. "The commission sincerely hopes that the city will reconsider its commitment to build the final mile of the parkway ..." members wrote the City Council in 2002.

But McKay from the Tucson Transportation Department thinks drivers want another way around downtown besides the existing street system. The goal, she says, should be to accomplish as much as possible with the smallest roadway possible.

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