The project to redo Broadway Boulevard took a bizarre turn on Wednesday, when Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry lobbed a bombshell at city transportation planners.
In a brief, terse memo, Huckelberry announced that the county might withhold its $25 million contribution to the $71 million project, if the citizens task force now hashing over the design doesn’t stick to notions of a six-lane, median-divided behemoth coursing through the middle of town.
That pretty much scuttles a year’s worth of work by the volunteer task force. Instead of yet another sea of concrete, the task force was compelling a fresh definition of what voters were seeking in 2006, when they approved this project as part of a sweeping, 20-year regional transportation scheme.
As it happens, the vast nature of that plan left out much of the fine print. Such as the fact that the supposed need for widening Broadway to 150 feet is based on 25-year-old, potentially flawed traffic projections. Or that such construction will lead to the demolition of more than 100 homes, businesses and historic properties.
But such out-of-the-box thinking apparently holds little appeal for Huckelberry. “It appears increasingly likely the City of Tucson will choose not to widen the Broadway Boulevard Corridor from Euclid Avenue to Country Club Road,” he wrote in the October 2 memo to county transportation director Priscilla Cornelio. “The County allocated up to $25 million of our Highway User Revenue Fund (HURF) bonds for the Broadway Boulevard widening project. If the City fails to widen Broadway Boulevard to a full six-lane, median-divided roadway, including bike lanes, the City will not be eligible for the County HURF funding allocated to the project.”
Some find it troubling that county allowed the citizens task force to spend a year hashing over quite divergent plans—and watched the city spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on design consultants—before dropping this show-stopping ultimatum.
Among them is City Councilman Steve Kozachik, whose Ward 6 encompasses the project. Kozachik has long argued for a smarter project that spares historic properties. “My concern is about the message this sends to members of the citizens task force,” he says. “These people have been working for over a year now, with the understanding that they had a free swing at the ball. And all of a sudden Huckelberry takes the approach Henry Ford took to cars: ‘You can have whatever color of car you want, as long as its black.’”
Huckelberry didn’t return a phone call seeking comment. But Cornelio says recent rumblings of a shifting Broadway design prompted the memo. “It’s because all of the discussions with the committees have kind of heated up now. I think that’s why now.”
So where does this leave the city and its task force? “I think we would just encourage Pima County, and really everyone in the community, to just let the process continue until its conclusion,” says Assistant City Manager Albert Elias. “And once the citizens task force finishes its work, the City of Tucson, Pima County and the Regional Transportation Authority can find the best way to move forward with the project…We believe we need a recommendation from the citizens task force to make a decision.”
Of course. After all, doesn’t every citizen want to devote two long years to creating a plan that’s DOA?
Yep, sure they do.