Light Rail Progress can be contacted at:
Light Rail Progress
Tucson, Arizona voters will face a choice on 4 November 2003: Stay with the current system of de facto dependency on the automobile, and all the associated traffic headaches and cost burdens ... or vote for Propositions 200 and 201 to commit Tucson to an alternative mobility system of light rail transit (LRT), dramatic bus service improvements, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructural upgrades, and other ambitious measures to provide Tucsonans more and better options in how they get around the city.
The Tucson transit initiative is highly unusual because it originated in a grassroots movement and doesn't seem to have the united backing of the city's power structure. Citizens for a Sensible Transportation Solution (CFASTS) managed to convince about 15% of Tucson's registered voters to sign its petitions to put the plan and the tax measures on the ballot.
The centerpiece of the CFASTS mobility plan is a 13-mile LRT starter system, routed mainly in the city's Broadway corridor. interfaced with this is 47 miles of Quality Bus ("Bus Rapid Transit") service, a high-level express and limited-stop bus system upgrade reaching into virtually every corner and cranny of metro Tucson (see map below).
On top of these major expansions of modern transit service, the currently operating Old Pueblo Trolley (a tourist-oriented electric streetcar line) would be extended from the University of Arizona through Downtown to Rio Nuevo as a shuttle operating daily with 10-15 minute headways to relieve parking problems along the entire route. New sidewalks and bikeways would also be built throughout Tucson neighborhoods to make the entire community more livable and people-friendly.
New revenue sources proposed
To finance these projects, new dedicated sources of revenue are proposed, generating a minimum of $59.8 million per year on average over the first 20 years of the plan (based on the conservative assumption of 2% annual economic growth and conservative estimates of increasing ridership on the transit system). The sources of this new revenue are proposed as follows:
· 0.3% increase to the City of Tucson sales tax
· 4% increase in the City of Tucson construction sales tax and the dedication of that tax to these projects
CFASTS planners also predict an increase in revenues resulting from increased ridership drawn to the expanded and upgraded transit service (they are promising no increase in fares). The entire comprehensive plan is projected to cost the average Tucson family less than $30 per year – potentially saving them thousands of dollars in reduced transportation expenses.
The mobility plan before voters also stipulates that the City of Tucson's current General Fund contribution to its Transportation Department will be maintained at existing levels, and will be adjusted for inflation. This is intended to ensure that the new revenues will be used for the new projects, and not to substitute for current and future General Fund contributions.
The CFASTS proposal is very explicit on how the new tax revenues would be used, allocating them as follows:
· 40% to vastly improve Sun Tran service and Van Tran service, and implement a the extensive Quality Bus ("Bus Rapid Transit") service
· 22% to design, build, and operate the proposed LRT system
· 20% to maintain Tucson's neighborhood streets and immediately address deferred street repairs
· 10% to build new sidewalks and bikeways throughout our neighborhoods "to make our community more livable and people-friendly..."
· 6% to extend the Old Pueblo Trolley (photo at right)
· 2% to improve enforcement of Tucson's existing traffic laws "with the objective of improving safety..."
Expanded transit + light rail
Clearly, about 40 percent of the proposed tax revenues would be dedicated to major improvements in the existing bus system and a significant expansion and upgrade of bus services. This plan enables expanded bus service ro reach virtually every neighborhood and activity center in the city. (See map above.) However, most of the media and public attention has been focused on the ambitious LRT plan, for which just over a fifth of the total projected revenues would be allocated.
Simulation of LRT in Broadway corridor,
The proposed LRT starter system (see map below) is actually
a 2-branch (from downtown) system which would run mostly along
East Broadway, East Sixth Street, through downtown Tucson, and
along South Sixth Avenue, with a connection through the University of
Arizona. (See map below.) The 13-mile line is projected to cost
approximately $455 to $500 million (of which about half would be
covered by federal funds). That's about $35 to $38 million per
These costs contrast starkly with the expense of trying to
accommodate mobility purely through roadway expansion. For
example, expanding the interstate (i-10) would cost $20 million a
mile; widening Speedway, a major arterial, $30 million a mile; and
installing a new crosstown freeway, $100 million a mile, according
to city and county estimates.
And those costs don't account for the fact that – because of "induced traffic" generated by adjacent development and other factors – you must build about four lanes of roadway to obtain just one lane of actual increased capacity! Plus, they don't include the tremendous costs borne by private motor vehicle users – the costs of all those cars, SUVs, and other vehicles, for example (meanwhile, the projected LRT costs do include the railcars). And ... they don't include the cost of the parking needed to store all those vehicles!
CFASTS points out that its plan builds in its own contingency and financing costs.
And the starter LRT line is just that – a start. Eventually, CFASTS evisions the LRT system being expanded over time to include Catalina Highway, Rita Ranch, Starr Pass, and Northwest neighborhoods.
ideal conditions for light rail
In many respects, Tucson offers ideal conditions for a comprehensive LRT system and other mass transit innovations. While it's a small urban area, with just around 750,000 population, its urban-area population density compares very favorably with several other US cities operating or installing new LRT systems, as the table below indicates.
Urban Area Population Density