The DL: Streetcar nearly ready to roll
Tucsonans had our first chance to view the first vehicle of our new streetcar system on Friday at the dedication of the facility that will provide the storage and maintenance of the vehicles. The car arrived in Tucson the previous Friday, trucked into town from the manufacturer near Portland, Ore. At the dedication, around 500 people packed the plaza, eager to glimpse the streetcar and tour the building that will house the cars when they are not in use.
Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords even made a surprise appearance; Giffords, who supported the project on its way to a federal grant, looked pleased to seeing the long-awaited streetcar.
The streetcar is not just about public transportation. It's introduction is one of the many steps the city is taking to encourage economic development, promote density over sprawl, create jobs, and work towards a vibrant city that will attract and retain the best and brightest.
Since the launch of the streetcar project, at least $800 million dollars have been invested in downtown, much of it from private investors opening new retail shops and restaurants. Thousands of jobs have been created, from well-paying construction jobs to long-lasting jobs at these new establishments. This is all money that is flowing back into our community. Sales tax revenue from dinner and drinks at that hot new place downtown go back to increased city investment, and workers spend their paycheck in local businesses — a paycheck they might not have had if not for the new jobs created, since unemployment has been all too common since the start of the recession.
And that's just downtown, not to mention 4th Avenue, Main Gate, the University of Arizona, and the rest of the 3.9-mile streetcar route. This investment has all come before the final weld was made on the tracks, or the first car left its manufacturer in Oregon (where it created more American jobs). The potential investment along the route is far from realized, but could total in the billions. We're just getting started.
Tucson has been receiving accolades nationally, from the San Francisco Chronicle discovering our little town and ruling that we're "hip" (thanks, we know!), to being declared one of America's "next hipster cities". Not too long ago, months would go by without any media outlet outside of Arizona mentioning Tucson, aside from political controversies. Now a new report talking about one amazing Tucson thing or another seems to come out every other day. We're building the type of city that retains its fundamental culture and values, but is increasingly attractive to a generation can telecommute and isn't geographically tied to a job, but can choose where they want to live. The young creative class wants to be in a vibrant city, with high-density neighborhoods, public transportation, walkability, authenticity, arts and culture.
With the modern streetcar driving the downtown renaissance, renewing interest in public transportation, and creating jobs here in our community, Tucson is increasingly becoming that city that not only attracts bright new residents, but retains our native daughters and sons that may have previously left for Portland or Austin.
The streetcar is not just about public transportation. It's about investing in our community, and building the type of community that invests in its people. The actual vehicle has only been in town for about a week and hasn't yet hit the rails, but its impact can already be seen.