A Tucson-free RTA, why not?

It was my honor to serve on the first Citizens Advisory Committee, the Pima Association of Governments and Regional Transportation Authority Boards, and finally as RTA Chair in 2014. Along with all in Pima County, I have watched with pride as the RTA’s plan, with its hundreds of projects, has unfolded. Accordingly, I am disheartened as we witness the City of Tucson’s efforts to derail the RTA, a hugely successful voter-approved and citizen-driven regional initiative.

The city continues to claim that it is not getting its fair share of funding and projects from the RTA and that the city deserves to hold more city-favored weighted votes on both the PAG and RTA Boards. With fabricated and melodramatic outrage, Mayor and Council intend to disrupt and undo all things RTA. The RTA’s jurisdictional members have twisted themselves up into pretzels trying to reach accommodation with the city, all with no success. Digging in its heels, throwing elbows, and below the belt punches, the city continues to bully and threatens to pick up its marbles – or “tax dollars”- and walk away from the RTA entirely, including from the RTA’s renewal by 2026. I say, enough is enough. Let the City of Tucson walk, and good riddance. Now is the time for the RTA to come up with a “Plan B” for RTA Next.

Imagine the freedom that regional planners and jurisdictions would enjoy by not having the millstone of the City of Tucson around their necks, and not having to hear rants of “inequity” and false claims of “not being heard”. A reasonable person might ask if it is just coincidence that the three remaining RTA projects that are running over budget and most fraught with confusion and controversy are all within the City of Tucson.

Is an RTA “Plan B” without the City of Tucson possible? It may not be, but given the current direction of the Mayor and City Council, it is certainly worth exploring. Being held hostage is never a good thing. It’s obvious to all that the city is going to walk, no matter how often and loudly it proclaims that it is trying to “work” with the RTA. Five years ago, the city promised its taxpayers that a half-cent sales tax designed in large part to repair the city’s neglected and decaying roads would be a short-term solution. Now, the city wants to renew and possibly raise that tax in a 2022 election to a full cent and keep it in place indefinitely. Then, the city won’t have to be bothered with that pesky RTA, or so city leaders think.

The disingenuous claims by the city are logic defying. All fail to acknowledge the substantial improvements the city has realized since 2006, including The Modern Streetcar, Houghton Road Corridor, Sabino Canyon/Kolb Road Extension and Bridge, Tanque Verde Road Corridor, Valencia Road Corridor and its intersection with Kolb Road, widening and modernization improvements on practically every major intersection in the city, scores of bus pullouts, miles of city sidewalks and bike lanes, and more.

I urge the jurisdiction leaders who sit on the boards of PAG and RTA to seriously consider formulating an RTA Next “Plan B” right away, and not be intimidated by the juvenile playground tactics of the city. I ask them to charge the PAG/RTA staff of transportation experts to come up with an alternative RTA plan without the City of Tucson, and let their creativity and imagination run wild. The two boards need to weigh and balance all the outstanding “what ifs.”

Who knows, by saying good-bye to the City of Tucson, the PAG/RTA, and our region, may find itself saying, “Why not?”

About author View all posts

Steve Christy