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$1.5M federal grant targets traffic deaths in Pima County

$1.5M federal grant targets traffic deaths in Pima County

Region saw 50% increase in number killed on roads from 2016-2020

  • A roadside memorial near the corner of Broadway Blvd and Old Spanish Trail.
    Bennito L. Kelty/TucsonSentinel.comA roadside memorial near the corner of Broadway Blvd and Old Spanish Trail.

Pima County efforts to prevent traffic deaths will benefit from a $1.5 million grant, part of a new federal roadway safety program, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced Wednesday. The county will work with jurisdictions in the Tucson metro area to plan repeatable, data-driven responses to traffic deaths.

The Tucson metro area has seen a higher rate of pedestrian deaths in recent years, especially during the pandemic. Deaths on Arizona’s roadways increased at a faster rate from 2020 to 2021 than the rate for the rest of the U.S.

Pima County and the region saw a 50% increase in traffic deaths from 2016 to 2020, and Tucson has the 13th highest rate of pedestrians killed per 100,000 people per year among metro areas in the U.S., according to a 2022 report by Smart Growth America, a nonprofit.

The grant comes from the Safe Streets and Roads for All program, which aims to reduce deaths on roadways, including for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists, with $5 billion set aside for it during the next five years by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Pima County applied for the grant to look for the best ways to drive down traffic deaths by analyzing data such as “crash types, contributing factors, and road users,” according to county documents, but wants to have consistent policies across the metro region because “public does not pay attention to which agency owns which roadway and nor do crashes.”

County officials want to be able to “more regularly, more easily” examine traffic safety data, said Paul Cacertano, deputy director of the county Transportation Department. It would be an improvement over “the heavy lift of ‘it’s time to dig into safety data again.’”

“We want to have a better plan moving forward so we can regularly examine crash data more closely,” he said. “It takes a lot of time and energy to get all the way through that.”

Analyzing traffic data and finding solutions through policies and programs is a “complicated process,” Cacertano said, but the goal is to “simplify it” and “repeat it on a regular basis.”

Although Pima County applied for the grant, it’s the city of Tucson that offers a “good foundation,” according to county documents, because of their Complete Streets policy plan that emphasizes reducing traffic deaths, especially pedestrian deaths, and have even mentioned a “vision zero” goal of preventing all traffic deaths.

January 2023 had markedly fewer traffic deaths in Tucson than the same month the previous year. Seven people died on city streets last month, including two pedestrians and five people in vehicles, while 13 were killed in January 2022. Last year, a total of 99 people died in roadway incidents in the city. In 2021, 84 were killed.

Type 2021: 84 2022: 99
Pedestrian 29 49
Bicycle 7 6
Motorcycle 10 17
Vehicle 38 27

Pima County is hoping jurisdictions in the region will be able to start setting timelines and percent reduction targets for their “vision zero goals,” according to county documents. The county also wants to offer more reports on roadway safety and local government efforts.

Arizona is receiving $4.8 million, but the largest share of that money is going towards Pima County’s regional plan.

The Tucson metro area is also set to receive $23.6 million from the Federal Transit Administration as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides more than $179 million in federal transit funding for Arizona in 2023, U.S. Sens. Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema announced Thursday.

However, Arizona was denied the $360 million "mega grant" that they requested from the federal government to widen 26 miles of Interstate 10. Sens. Kelly and Sinema wrote that they were "disappointed" by the U.S. Transportation Department's decision to reject funding the project.

Bennito L. Kelty is’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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