Has the City of Tucson got a deal for you!
It's quite the sporty model, built for speed and fully loaded with all the options. It's shiny, it's sleek, it hugs the curves with unmatched performance. It features cutting-edge technology that promises to reduce travel time and even save lives. And all it will cost you is an extra half-cent for every dollar you spend in town.
The city wants you to say yes to two propositions on the May 21 ballot. One would increase the sales tax by a half-cent, raising an estimated $40 million a year for transportation projects; the other asks voters to approve a plan for spending that money.
The morning daily, which was beating the drums for this one before the council even approved it, can't understand why anybody wouldn't want to support this proposal.
Well, we'll tell you why not.
No. 1: The Short-Term Plan Is Bad
NOBODY LIKES SITTING in traffic, but commutes in this community are not nearly as bad as in most major metropolitan areas. Some city officials have cited data from the Texas Transportation Institute, which reports that the average person wastes 23 hours a year sitting in traffic. Do the math: even figuring in a generous four weeks of vacation time, that's less than 3 minutes per drive per day if you commute back and forth to work Monday through Friday.
Still, it feels a lot longer sometimes, and as we continue our helter-skelter growth patterns, congestion is bound to get worse. So we agree the city ought to do something about it.
But we are not persuaded that this plan will do much good when it comes to easing our wait in traffic. Nearly 30 percent of the dollars dedicated to congestion management--$53 million--will be spent on just three intersections--and that's assuming the city isn't low-balling the estimate, which we believe they are.
These grade-separated intersections, to be built at Grant and Campbell, Grant/Kolb and Tanque Verde, and 22nd Street and Kino Boulevard, will allow one street to tunnel beneath another.
How effective will these intersections be? We don't know, but we suspect traffic will stack up just as badly, if not even worse, at the intersections surrounding the GSIs.
We do know this: the two-year construction of the tunnel will hammer the business community at Grant and Campbell.
Although the Arizona Daily Star has buried the concerns of these business owners, the merchants are almost universally opposed to the intersections because they know they can't survive while customers avoid the construction tangles for two years. Most won't stick around for the slow strangulation and will simply move when construction begins, so you can kiss them goodbye.
We spend a lot of time talking about creating a community with neighborhoods where residents can live, work and play. So what do we decide to do? Destroy one of the best examples of an urban village in the first step of a plan that will take decades to complete.
The GSI at Campbell and Grant is a cancer that will spread only misery.
No. 2: The Long-Term Plan Is Worse
MAYOR BOB WALKUP tells us the long-term plan will turn Grant Road into a "mini-freeway" that will allow drivers to scoot across town without ever tapping the brakes.
As detailed in these pages ("The Grade Depression," April 18), Walkup's long-range vision calls for Grant Road to be widened to six lanes, with the city demolishing homes and businesses on the north side of the street. The limited-access parkway will tunnel beneath most major intersections, with minor crossings such as Tucson and Columbus boulevards shut down so there are few stoplights along the corridor. Won't that make life better for pedestrians and bikers!
Walkup admits completion of a limited-access parkway is decades off. It will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. And it will slowly strangle local businesses as the Campbell/Grant experience is repeated at intersections over and over again across the city.
It's just not worth the time and expense.
No. 3: We Ought To Have A Choice
IT DIDN'T HAVE TO be this way. In 1985, Tucson voters approved the Neighborhood Protection Amendment, designed to ensure that city voters had a say in decisions to build disruptive freeways through town.
The Neighborhood Protection Amendment is explicit in its requirement that the city present voters with the design and cost of grade-separated intersections so that we could approve or reject the projects.
The city could have followed those guidelines. But instead of giving us the option, the city has packaged these monstrous intersections into a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, completely sidestepping the Neighborhood Protection Amendment.
We don't think the grade-separated intersections are such a bright idea. It may be that the voters of Tucson would disagree, voting overwhelmingly to build 'em, but put it to a vote. City leaders shouldn't be packaging them along with everything else and telling us they won't ever repair a residential street again unless we agree to this. That's blackmail, pure and simple.
Let's have a real debate over the merits of these intersections before committing ourselves to a half-baked plan with an unknown outcome.
No. 4: The Plan Subsidizes The Same Development That Got Us Here In The First Place
ANOTHER 28 PERCENT of the funds dedicated to congestion management--more than $51 million--will be spent on widening Houghton Road and other streets leading to Houghton.
We know developers will soon be building their master-planned stucco villages across Tucson's sprawling Southeast Side. We even believe that spending money there now rather than later makes a certain amount of sense--but it shouldn't all have to come from taxpayers.
Tucson remains the only major metro area in the state that doesn't charge some kind of standardized development impact fee. At the same time they're asking us to shell out a little more at the cash register, our elected officials continue to oppose extracting even a token contribution from the development that's driving the need to spend money on the outer loop. Walkup dismisses impact fees as "the trap of easy money." We're not sure why all the money has to be raised the hard way--i.e., from our wallet.
Lousy land-use planning for our uncontrolled growth is the reason we're now being asked to hike our taxes.
If we approve the sales tax, the City Council will never have to adopt impact fees. Instead, we'll be paying the impact fees every time we shop. Why are we picking up the check? When the council is ready to adopt an impact fee, we'll be ready to approve a sales tax.
No. 5: The Plan Starves Mass Transit
TODAY, SUN TRAN IS actually losing riders as our population grows. Buses stop running at night, making it impossible to use the system if you're going out for the evening. Many stops lack benches and most lack even rudimentary shelter, which leaves potential riders facing the unpleasant prospect of standing out in the sun while waiting for the next ride. Schedules and maps aren't posted at bus stops, making it all the harder to figure out how to get to where you're going.
When the city went to ask its citizens what they wanted, a better public transit system was at the top of the list. That's hardly surprising, given that we have many seniors who would like an alternative to driving our mean streets and a bunch of kids who now must count on their parents for rides across town.
But the citizen committee that hammered out the package proposed just 12 percent of the money go to mass transit. The magnanimous City Council boosted that to 18 percent, which comes out to an extra $7.2 million a year.
Our officials promise new routes along with late-night and weekend service, but even they concede most of that won't be possible without more money from the city's tightly squeezed general fund.
At best, those dollars will help the system keep pace with inflation and restore some of the cuts we've seen in recent years.
It's not enough. Our transit system and our residents deserve better.
THERE'S PLENTY more in this proposal worth complaining about. We're suspicious that the city will, over time, shift money in the general fund that would have been spent on transportation to other areas of the budget. They've promised not to spend less than they're spending this year, but let's not kid ourselves: inflation will swiftly eat away at the value of that sum.
We're appalled at the tax dollars officials are spending to persuade us to buy this lemon. As of early March, the city had already blown more than $625,000, and we're sure they've spent plenty since.
We're tired of the deceptions used by supporters. Using statistics from years ago, they say the city is the fourth deadliest in the U.S. per capita from drivers running red lights. The truth is, only two people died in such accidents last year--and that was down from three the previous year.
But that's typical of the promotion of this plan--hype, half-truths and untruths, all at taxpayer expense. The city won't let the dailies sell their papers from street medians, but city firefighters and police officers can stand in them to pass out propaganda to motorists. Transportation department employees visit businesses to explain--read: sell--the plan to their workers. This full-court press has skirted the legal limits on how cities may promote such propositions--and a judge may yet find the city afoul of a law that allows it to inform and educate, but not advocate a particular vote, in such elections.
It's been nearly 12 years since voters have had a chance to approve a sales tax for transportation. We wish this were a better plan, because the city does need to improve its transportation system.
But the city doesn't need to spend huge amounts on experimental intersections that will destroy businesses. It shouldn't demonstrate contempt for the voters by sidestepping the Neighborhood Protection Amendment or by blowing hundreds of thousands of tax dollars on propaganda. The city shouldn't support sprawl on the southeast side at taxpayer expense. Or continue to starve our bus system.
We don't need Prop 100 and Prop 400, and recommend you vote No on both.