Former mayor welcomes downtown streetcar

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - When former Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup saw the modern streetcar for the first time after it arrived in Tucson, his reaction was, "I want to give it a hug."

That's because the former mayor, who spent 12 years in the top spot, was instrumental in bringing the $200 million project to live and nurturing it along until it became a reality.

"It was quite a struggle," he says. "But there were a lot of people who knew it would happen. It had to happen."

But as he inspected the wheels, kicked the tires and marveled at the engineering, he was always care to acknowledge who came first.

"The voters," he said. "The voters are the ones who said we think this is a good idea."

Walkup sat with Vice President Joe Biden when they discussed the idea of making the streetcar project an All-American project.

It was likely one of the ideas which sold the project to the US Transportation Department and insured that Tucson would get the nearly $65 million it needed from the government to finish the financing.

Tucson voters had already approved a one cent sales tax to provide the bulk of the money needed for the project.

"It was a critical meeting with Senator John McCain who said Tucson needs this," that helped push it along he adds.

It was thought the price tag would be $130 million but it ended up closer to $200 million.

But the revitalization of downtown may likely make the extra cost worth the effort.

"We've got to prove it is very important to the life of the city," he says.

The nearly $1 billion in public/private dollars invested downtown so far may help make that point.

There's likely more to come, in part because of the university commitment.

A letter received the former U of A President Bob Sheldon sealed the deal according to Walkup.

"Once that letter was received, that allowed the investment community to say let's put dorms downtown, why don't we put classrooms downtown, why don't we put a campus downtown," Walkup says.

Walkup feels a kinship with the streetcar not solely because he helped raise the money and support as the point person for the project, but because as an engineer, he helped in the design as well.

"The had a prototype in Oregon," Walkup says of one of his many trips there. "I got down on my hands and knees and I looked at the circuit designs."

What he discovered was a ball of wires that were attached by screws to a switch box, "there was this great bundle of wires."

He knew from working in the aviation field for much of his life, that it wasn't going to work well.

"I said, that's 1960's stuff," he told the crew.

Looking at it today, he said "there it is" pointing to a sleek looking circuit board that did not contain a bundle of wires.

Walkup rattles off a list of names of people who made it possible, taking little of the credit for himself.

"I'm happy to be part of that, to be part of history," he says. "I personally look at this as my machine, right, but this belongs to the people of Tucson, it belongs to downtown."

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