Regional Transportation Authority reaches milestone

Published: Apr. 21, 2016 at 5:44 PM MST|Updated: Apr. 21, 2016 at 9:10 PM MST
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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The Regional Transportation Authority has reached middle age.

In the 10 years since the voters passed the half-cent sales tax to pay for road construction, 730 projects have been started or completed.

The RTA was passed in 2006 by a two-to-one majority, born out of driver frustration with traffic congestion, which had reached intolerable levels in many parts of the valley.

The tax had failed in three previous attempts.

It was predicted to raise $2.1 billion over 20 years to pay for the projects.

The voters were told the tax would expire in 2026 but that does not have to be the case. It could extend beyond that if voters approve.

The RTA board created a re-authorization task force last year which will explore ways to keep the RTA functioning. But the success of the program may be its biggest selling point if it extends beyond 2026.

"It's probably the most successful infrastructure project in Pima County," said Pima County Board Chair Sharon Bronson.

On its success, she said, "I'm very surprised."

There may be several reasons for the success of the project, including public support, but the biggest seems to be the co-operation between jurisdictions.

Projects cross boundaries from city to city, and city to county including the Indian Nations.

Nine jurisdictions have a seat at the table, which means they share information and concerns, but also look out for the interests of their respective constituencies.

Bronson adds it was a "promise" to voters that the tax would expire but it was also designed to give those same voters the final say.

"We have many more projects," Bronson said. "We also need to deal with potholes and part of that sales tax could be used for road maintenance."

Re-purposing the tax money would also need voter approval.

Arizona has slashed funding for cities and counties to pay for road maintenance and repair since 2008, sweeping the money for other purposes. It has also refused to raise the state's gas tax for the past 23 years, which is the money used to fix roads.

With state and federal transportation dollars being harder to find, it may be left up to the local jurisdictions to fill the gap.

The RTA itself is winding down now that most of the large projects such as 22nd Street, Grant Road and Broadway Boulevard have either not been started, are approved, or are ongoing. Another large project which has not been started yet is First Avenue from River to Grant roads.

The RTA also funds transit projects, bike paths, and safety projects.

It will hold a 10-year celebration May 12.

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