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Sen. Kelly, Mayor Romero tout Tucson impact of $1 trillion federal infrastructure bill

Tucson will see new bridges, roads, buses and trains because of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that passed by a 69-30 vote in the Senate earlier this week, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero and U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly said Thursday.

The two officials were with Oro Valley Mayor Joseph Winfield and South Tucson Mayor Bob Teso to talk about the expected local impact of the spending bill

“All 100 of us in the United States Senate realize that we’ve got major infrastructure problems in our country that have not been addressed for decades,” Kelly said. “Failing roads and bridges, here in Arizona, ports of entry are a big item important for our economy.”

Romero said that the provisions in the bill, now called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, “directly support the vision of our community for a safer, healthier, more equitable and more prosperous Tucson.”

Romero said that once the bill passes the House and gets President Joe Biden’s signature, Tucson and the region will see new bridges, more streetcar lines and cleaner water, among other investments.

She said that the $110 billion going to road and bridge projects across the country will help the city of Tucson build a bridge on Drexel Road near Interstate-19 to cross the Santa Cruz River, a connection she said will “support enhanced economic vitality, divert traffic from some of the most highly congested areas in our city and reconnect communities with vehicle, biking and walking access."

Kelly said that $5.3 billion of the $110 billion for roads and bridges nationwide will go to the Arizona Department of Transportation for road and bridge improvements over the next five years, which he said he would love to see go towards Interstate-10 expansion and an improved connection between Phoenix and Tucson.

“I’ve sat on I-10 a number of times, stuck in traffic because there’s an accident, there’s no access roads,” Kelly said. “This is an everyday occurrence. People can’t get to work. Ambulances can’t get to an accident scene then to the hospital. The backup on I-10 is at least an hour. We’ve got to fix that.”

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Tucson and Phoenix could also have a connection by passenger rail for the time in 25 years, Romero said, crediting the $66 billion in planned spending included for Amtrak.

Kelly said that out of the $19 billion going towards transit systems across the country, Sun Tran, the agency that operates Tucson’s buses, streetcars and paratransit vans, will receive about $118 million. He said that over 200,000 individuals live within a half-mile of a Sun Tran stop and are sure to see the improvements.

The elected officials spokes at a press conference at the Sun Link Maintenance Yard near Downtown Tucson, a hub for Tucson’s streetcars.

Romero added that the city will be able to build Tucson’s first Bus Rapid Transit system, saying “this would provide fast, convenient and reliable cross-town service” that will go from Oracle Road through Downtown and down South 6th Avenue to Tucson International Airport.

She said the rapid transit system would connect Tucson “just like the Sun Link modern streetcar helped transform our urban core and connect the University of Arizona and Downtown to the Westside.”

The bill will also pay for electric buses and electric charging stations in Tucson, the mayor said. That would support the City Council’s goal of making their entire transit fleet electric and making it easier for working families in the city to have electric cars. The mayor said that the city already has nine electric buses that they hope to start using soon.

The funding for improving transit systems will also greatly reduce Tucson and the region’s carbon footprint, Romero said, which she said is “critical” because Tucson is “the third-fastest warming city in the country.” She also said improved transit systems will increase access to affordable, multimodal transit options, especially for “underserved communities and mobility vulnerable communities.”

Nationwide, $10 billion will go towards remediation and cleanup of PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, a chemical linked to some cancer risks and that’s been discharging into the Santa Cruz River.

Arizona will directly receive $6 million for PFAS cleanup and remediation, which Romero and Kelly said will boost groundwater and wastewater systems in Tucson.

“It’s going to be a positive thing for improving the quality of our drinking water,” the Democratic senator said.

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Several border crossings in Arizona will also receive money from the bill. The bill includes $3.85 billion in total for improving land ports of entry with $147 million for the San Luis Port of Entry in Yuma County, $216 million for the new Douglas Port of Entry and $184 million for rehabilitation at the current Douglas Port of Entry.

Romero said that big federal funding will also attract private investment and public-private partnerships. Spurred by the $180 million in federal funding that has gone into Sun Link, Tucson has seen more than $1 billion in private investment, she said.

“That means, as the senator said, more jobs, both in construction when the projects are being developed and in the long run,” she said. “I believe that is the most important result that we get from infrastructure investment.”

Talking about how the creation of the Sun Link Streetcar system seven years ago resulted in “great economic development for Downtown Tucson” and Tucson in general, Kelly said transportation “connects communities together. It connects people to jobs. It provides economic opportunity. It provides major growth for communities.”

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member.

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Bennito L. Kelty/TucsonSentinel.com

U.S. Senator Mark Kelly and Tucson Mayor Regina Romero spoke at a press conference on Thursday about the local benefits to Tucson and Southern Arizona from the $1.2 trillion senate infrastructure bill that passed 69-30 on Tuesday.


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