"One thing people need to think about," says Dale Calvert, chair of the city of Tucson Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee, "is we're not just moving people, but also goods. The transportation system must provide for moving both goods and people."
Tucson does that not merely through accommodating automobile traffic; it also provides transportation systems for trucks, planes, trains, and many other types of vehicles. All that needs to be taken into account in sorting out Tucson's transportation problems and potential.
According to Karen Rasmussen, president of the 300-member Arizona Motor Transport Association, almost 90 percent of all freight in the state is handled at some time by the trucking industry. That means anything with an impact on trucking, from traffic congestion to higher fuel prices, affects everyone.
Rasmussen says urban congestion restricts the ability of truckers to deliver goods in a timely fashion, and increases their fuel and labor expenses. In the end, she states, heavy traffic ultimately costs the consumer more.
To address the congestion issue, she advocates a multidisciplinary approach. Rasmussen points out, however, that the proposal to increase the gas tax to pay for some of these improvements will have serious economic consequences. Arizona, she says, already has pretty high gas tax and trucking fees.
The association does support both transit and infrastructure improvements and hopes telecommuting can play a bigger role in the future. Plus, Rasmussen says, "Planning for growth would be a big help." But, she adds, echoing the sentiments of many others, "We're never going to build our way out of congestion."
Tucson has six airports in close proximity, ranging from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to the privately owned northside La Cholla Airpark, which serves small aircraft and had 4,300 takeoffs and landings last year. On the three runways at Tucson International Airport, that liftoff/touchdown number was 251,000, an increase of just under 9 percent in seven years.
TIA has 60 daily departures, and 3,592,188 people either arrived or left through the gates of the airport last year. The recent terrorist attacks, however, have diminished that number, at least in the short term. Suzanne McLean, vice-president of planning and development for the Tucson Airport Authority, estimates there were 28 percent fewer on/off passengers in September than last year and that October's figures will be 4 or 5 percent lower.
But McLean remains very optimistic about future travel from TIA. She adds that the Airport Authority has been fiscally conservative in its expenditures and that much of its capital improvement money comes from the federal government, a source that won't be subject to the changing moods of the traveling public.
The airport is currently in the midst of an extensive improvement program. Construction now going on, which should be completed by February, will result in a new $16.5 million rental car facility, including a three-story parking garage.
Work is also underway to push the front of the terminal building forward to make room for a large expansion beginning next spring. This second phase of improvements is budgeted at $50 million. Adding 54,000 square feet of space to baggage claim, including eight large carousels, and another 26,000 to the ticketing area, this phase will take two years to complete. At the same time, a $3 million third phase of concourse improvements will be implemented, including adding extra restrooms.
These projects are paid for primarily by bonds financed through small passenger facility charges and further backed by the airlines. McLean said the Airport Authority decided to proceed only after looking at all of the projects very carefully in light of the air travel impact of the attacks.
Also proceeding are plans to implement another $15 million worth of projects, most of which are funded by pending federal grants that cover 90 percent of the costs. Included in this category are new security door locks, expansion of the cargo apron and continuation of the program to sound-proof residences near the airport. McLean says this decade-old, $5 million-a-year effort has been very successful, with between 100 and 150 homes insulated for noise annually at no cost to the homeowner.
TAA has deferred, however, some $650,000 of operating fund-financed projects. These include changes in the administration building and an administration/pilot briefing building at Ryan Field, which the Airport Authority also manages.
Other projects, though, will be implemented at Ryan Field. The facility, located about 12 miles west of I-19 along Ajo Way, handles primarily general aviation aircraft and business jets. It had almost 175,000 takeoffs and landings last year. Among the $4.5 million worth of projects scheduled at Ryan are drainage improvements, hangars and acquiring land along the airport's northern border to prevent encroachment by residential development.
Since the railroad arrived in 1880, Tucson has been a focal point for both passengers and commodities. In the late 1940s, 10 passenger trains clanked through town every day. Today, Amtrak provides service east and west only three times a week in each direction.
Some people have long dreamed of a day when a high-speed passenger train will link Tucson with Phoenix. But the estimated price tag of $378 million for track upgrades just to allow for highway-speed trains, ignoring the $3.76 billion required to operate a 120 mph electric rail service, makes this project highly unlikely anytime in the foreseeable future.
Approximately 65 freight trains roll through Tucson daily. Most of them carry mining and agricultural products, with consumer goods also making up a substantial portion of the loads.
To accommodate more freight business, local company Levin & Sons has recently opened the Port of Tucson, an intermodal center for rail to truck transfers near Kolb and Valencia roads. According to Alan Levin, the facility will allow moving cargo containers from trucks to trains and vice-versa and provide for container loading. Levin expects much of the business will come from sending goods finished in Mexico into the U.S. while delivering raw materials from the U.S. to Mexico.
Additional forms of transportation available in Tucson include intercity buses, shuttle services and taxis. Greyhound Bus Lines serves the community with about 55 buses a day, and Golden State Transportation Company operates bus lines to other Arizona towns as well as to Mexico.
Long-delayed City of Tucson plans have called for relocating the Greyhound terminal from its present location at Broadway Boulevard and Fourth Avenue to make room for the extension of the Barraza-Aviation Parkway. The new facility is scheduled to be built within a few years near the corner of Toole and Sixth avenues.
Several shuttle businesses serve Tucson, providing van rides both to Phoenix's Sky Harbor Airport and to Nogales. Last year, Arizona Shuttle Service carried 168,000 passengers between Tucson and Phoenix.
Whether powered by jets, locomotives or semis, transportation in Tucson is a non-stop, 24-hour business. Vehicles are constantly moving people and produce, raw materials and finished products. This is a community, and country, built on movement, and despite increasing local congestion, it doesn't seem likely to stall anytime soon.