Complete Streets Council: Keep 1st Ave improvements in current RTA plan
Sophia Gonzalez is a member of Tucson's Complete Streets Coordinating Council, which voted to support this public statement.
This community has an opportunity to save lives and make our city safer by improving and modernizing a three-mile section of First Avenue between Grant and River roads.
That was the recent determination by the 20 members of the Complete Streets Coordinating Council, which reviews projects for accessibility, inclusivity, sustainability and a number of other priorities that are key to the quality of life and economic health of our community, as outlined in the city of Tucson's 2019 Complete Streets Policy.
It is no accident that the first of our guiding principles ensures that we consider projects that provide a safe travel experience to all. When evaluated through that prism, the city of Tucson cannot wait any longer to make improvements to this very dangerous corridor, which has significant pedestrian and cycling activity, in part because of its function as a high-demand transit route.
In just a four-year period, between 2013-2017, there were almost 800 crashes along that stretch, half of which resulted in an injury. Eight people died. More recently, from 2016-2020, there were 779 crashes, with 12 fatalities.
In fact, this corridor has been identified in the top 10 percent of roadways where pedestrian crashes are occurring in the city. Safety improvements on 1st Avenue are long overdue.
Traffic projections indicate that a four-lane modernization project performs as well or better than the original 2006 Regional Transportation Authority six-lane widening project at a 20-percent estimated cost reduction. The four-lane plan would also require less taking of private property and would be better for pedestrians.
It is the Coordinating Council's position that we do not agree with the Technical Management Committee Project Review Task Force recommendation to move the 1st Avenue project to RTA Next.
We urge the RTA Board to approve the four-lane scope change and allow the city to immediately begin design and construction planning for this project. The TMC Project Review Task Force determined that the six-lane upgrade would likely result in an unnecessarily overbuilt corridor and that the modernized project would fulfill all of the performance goals and functionality of the original project. The task force, however, suggested the project should go back to voters, given the change in scope.
The Complete Streets Coordinating Council disagrees. Voters expect safer travel with the passage of the RTA. They expect more effective traffic signals, better bicycle and pedestrian facilities, more functional transit stops and improved intersections.
The four-lane modernization project delivers all of those priorities – which was why the Complete Streets Coordinating Council voted unanimously in support of it. We respectfully disagree as well with the RTA TMC recommendation for additional public outreach.
A significant effort to solicit public opinion has already taken place. Over a four-month period, more than 1,200 surveys were collected from residents county wide. It would be a senseless delay to duplicate that effort.
While we recognize there is a funding shortfall, the solution cannot be to push critical projects into RTA Next as a means of closing that gap. That places the project at risk, given that we can't foretell what the voter mood or economic conditions may be in that election cycle. We also do not feel reassured by assertions that Transportation Improvement Program dollars would be available to complete the project, should the election fail.
This project is the essence of good government. It protects our community. It's grounded in data. It was developed thoughtfully and with buy-in from those who live and work in the corridor. It's fiscally prudent. And despite that, it's at risk. The answer cannot be to dismiss current realities and proceed with a plan that was appropriate for 2006, no matter the cost.
We have a foundational obligation – and a humanitarian one – to proceed with this project. This corridor can't be fixed soon enough.