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City threatens to quit RTA leaving its future in doubt

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Jan. 24, 2022 at 8:51 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - The future of the RTA, the regional transportation authority, hangs in doubt because the city of Tucson s threatening to leave the nine member body unless its demands are met.

The RTA was formed when voters passed a half cent sales tax in 2006 to pay for new roads, bridges, bike paths, freeway overpasses and the like.

The sales tax was estimated to bring in $2 billion but has fallen short, in large part because of the great recession,

Still, hundreds of miles of roads have been built or improved and the freeway overpasses have greatly reduced the time motorists wait for trains.

But now, with collections falling short and inflation increasing costs, there’s not enough money to fully fund all of the projects.

Much of that falls on city taxpayers because their projects were some of the last to be scheduled.

Grant Road is an example. It’s about two thirds completed but to finish it, the city needs to pick up a $57 million funding gap.

“Oro Valley, Marana and the rest of them, they can be happy with the fact their projects got done early in the process because they weren’t hit by inflation,” said Tucson’s Ward 6 councilmember Steve Kozachik.

Another example is the widening of North First Avenue from River to Grant which was scheduled for 2017 but has been pushed back to 2022.

The RTA plan calls for six lanes at a cost of $97 million but when voters approved it in 2006, the cost was estimated at $71 million.

The city is responsible for the difference.

Except, the city says, traffic studies have shown it doesn’t need to be six lanes and the present four lanes is appropriate.

The city wants to down-scope the project but is meeting resistance.

“20 year old traffic projections were wrong and so people are no traveling as much,” Kozachik said. “Traffic is not as heavy as predicted.”

Others say changes are not allowed.

“The whole integrity of the plan is keeping intact what the voters have come to rely on,” said District 4 Supervisor Steve Christy and a former RTA Board Chair. “A project that will not be changed by any jurisdiction or any politician.”

That puts the city in a bind.

“We can save RTA $20 million by doing what the traffic projections require for First Avenue,” Kozachik said. “Ad that is don’t expand it to six lanes.”

Still some say down scoping a project is not allowed because it can affect the will of the voters.

“It was to keep political entities and individuals from coming in and making changes to what the voters passed,” Christy said. “When that becomes compromised ,the whole RTA plan becomes compromised.”

The city is also asking that the RTA board be restructured giving the biggest players a bigger say.

The RTA board meets Thursday Jan. 27. Depending on the outcome of that meeting,, the city will meet Jan. 31 to determine if it will stay or leave.

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