The long-promised start of construction on a new traffic underpass beneath the railroad tracks at Fourth Avenue may only be a few months off.
The project will bring many changes downtown. Broadway Boulevard will become a two-way street, permitting Tucson's trolley to have daily service, and resulting in the relocation of the Greyhound bus station.
That last contentious point may end up delaying the entire project.
Planned for more than a decade as part of the downtown leg of the Barraza-Aviation Parkway, the new underpass would be built to handle two lanes of automobile traffic, along with bicycles and dual trolley tracks. The existing subway, which dates from 1916, would be refurbished to accommodate pedestrians only.
Before work on the $20 million project can begin, the adjacent Greyhound bus station needs to be moved. Numerous fiber-optic cables buried beneath the alley that gives bus access to the building must be relocated before construction on the underpass can start.
For years, it was anticipated that a new bus station would be built a few blocks away on an existing parking lot along Toole Avenue just west of the soon-to-be-restored train depot. The goal of an adopted plan for the area was to achieve a multi-modal transportation center which would feature both local and inter-city busses, the trolley, taxis and passenger trains.
But the idea is now being questioned.
"We're not crazy about that location," says Donovan Durband, executive director of the Tucson Downtown Alliance. Believing there isn't a lot of land around the depot to develop for commercial, housing and entertainment uses, he says his group would prefer to see the bus station near Interstate 10. The Toole Avenue site, he thinks, should be used for something that would contribute to the vibrancy of the area.
To back up his position, Durband indicates that a recent survey of readers of the alliance's monthly publication, the Downtown Tucsonan, showed most supported an Interstate 10 location for the bus station.
That view isn't shared by Greyhound--or some of those who have been involved with the issue for years.
"The purpose of the (multi-modal) center was to have several types of transportation all in one place," says Howard Greenseth, a longtime member of the city's Inter-Modal Task Force. "Most cities do this because it makes sense for people who don't have cars ... and to bring people into the area. If you want to bring people into downtown, why would you move transit facilities out of downtown?"
Recently, Greenseth attended a meeting at which city of Tucson officials announced the new bus station might be located outside the area. Outraged at that possibility, he fired off a letter in protest.
At their meeting on Jan. 26, the City Council will be asked to approve relocation of the bus station to Congress Street and I-10. This site, which may also eventually be used for a new arena (see "Arena Agenda" Jan. 8, 2004), would theoretically only be a temporary home for the bus station.
When contacted in Dallas last week about the company's position on the proposed move, Deanna Simsek, assistant director of real estate for Greyhound, said she hadn't heard any of the details before talking to The Weekly. "I'm waiting for someone (with the city) to tell me something. 'We're working on it,' is the only response I get from them," she said.
In Simsek's opinion, while a temporary move near I-10 might be acceptable, it makes sense to permanently keep the bus station downtown near the train station. "It works for us," she says, "and gives passengers transit choices. It's a win-win situation for everybody."
The permanent site for the bus station remains undecided. They didn't return phone calls, but city officials are rumored to be looking at the northeast corner of 22nd Street and I-10, or maybe near Sixth Avenue on the north side of the railroad tracks. But that controversy isn't the only problem with moving the bus station, even on a temporary basis.
City plans call for having the existing building demolished and a new modular structure erected within six months so construction on the Fourth Avenue underpass can begin this summer. But Simsek says that won't work.
"That's not enough time. We need a minimum of 10 months to set up," she insists. "They just can't put us in a little wooden shack."
Once that issue gets resolved, construction work on the underpass can actually begin. Planned to take between 18-24 months to complete, it is a project many people are looking forward to.
"We're excited about it happening," says John Sedwick, executive director of the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association. "It will be a valuable link (for us) to the newly restored train depot and Congress Street."
Durband concurs. "We're enthusiastic supporters. It's a major step forward and a great economic boost (for the area)."
Dick Guthrie of Old Pueblo Trolley indicates that not only will the new underpass allow street cars to get south of the railroad tracks to the train station, but this could result in more passengers. Now operating a total of 24 hours on weekends only, Guthrie hopes to expand the service to 60 hours, seven days a week.
"This will really tie together two destination points--downtown and the University of Arizona," he says. Because of that, Guthrie expects the number of trolley riders could reach 1,100 daily.
Another alteration the project will bring is the conversion of Broadway Boulevard downtown into a two-way street. This has to be done to accommodate construction, and Durband hopes it will lead to Congress Street eventually becoming two-way as well.
But that and other impacts of the new Fourth Avenue underpass await an answer on the Greyhound bus station question.