Photos: Streetcar gets warm welcome
A gritty sky and rising temperatures didn't keep Tucsonans from turning out to celebrate the launch of the Sun Link streetcar on Friday, which made a series of ribbon-cutting whistle stops along its route before a morning event Downtown that inaugurated the line's first run carrying the general public.
A series of speeches by local politicians and community leaders at the intersection of South 5th Avenue and East Congress Street had a crowd of about 500 people using handheld fans and eagerly seeking out bottles of water as temperatures climbed toward an eventual high of 101 degrees.
But not all was hot air as Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, former Mayor Bob Walkup, University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart, outgoing City Manager Richard Miranda and others welcomed the opening day of the $197 million streetcar.
State Sen. Steve Farley, a public transit advocate whose early work led the project, was ebullient. He worked to rouse the crowd, repeating, "We did this ... together!"
"Downtown is for everyone," Rothschild said, speaking of the importance of a vital city center for Tucson's future.
There was a significant police presence, with federal officers from the Department of Homeland Security augmenting about 360 officers from the Tucson Police Department who are being deployed over the first weekend of the streetcar's public service. Chief Roberto Villaseñor said that the city received a federal grant to pay for much of the increased security over the weekend of the launch.
Miranda, set to leave his post at the end of the month, said the completion of the project was "overwhelming" to him.
Walkup, with whom Farley had verbally jousted a bit earlier in the week regarding the ex-mayor's early skepticism about the streetcar, said he was nominating Farley as the city's "honorary cheerleader."
Another who didn't back Sun Link early on, former Regional Transportation Authority board chair Steve Christy, gave a run-down of the economic impact of the streetcar — a project that Rothschild described as the "largest construction project in Tucson's history."
Not all were happy with the launch. A small group of activists from the Bus Riders Union held up a banner reading, "No bus money for the streetcar."
After the speeches, it was time for the public to get a chance to ride the 3.9 mile line. As the UA pep band played, one of the streetcars broke through a banner stretched across the tracks, and the other seven cars in the fleet were put into service around the route.
Although cars were scheduled to run every 10 minutes, the crowds pressing to board slowed service for at least the first 90 minutes after opening, as times between streetcars crept up to 20 minutes.