Enter the Public
No mass transit system can be successful without public support. To ensure public support, Tucson officials worked hard to create a partnership with a variety of stakeholders from the outset. The TDOT hosted a Partnering Workshop that included team building exercises and brainstorming to identify issues and potential roadblocks to project success.
The partnering effort resulted in joint commitment among stakeholder groups to work together to generate a transit recommendation that would meet FTA guidelines and allow the city to apply for federal funding under the Small Starts program. The partnering effort grew into a Community Liaison Group (CLG) that would support the Transit on the Move study that began with the alternatives analysis. The result of this effort was completion of Phase 1 of the project in 2006. With extensive input from the public, project stakeholders and local, regional, state and federal agencies and elected officials, the Alternatives Analysis resulted in a scope of work and public involvement plan that met FTA guidelines and resulted in the selection of the modern streetcar as the preferred alternative.
Modern Streetcar Technology
When a city like Tucson looks at options to meet a need for increased mobility in an already developed city core, some features of modern streetcars can be important factors in the decision-making process. Two of the most important features of modern systems include their ability to be built within existing tight urban corridors and to operate alongside other traffic.
The modern streetcar is a fixed-guideway electric rail system that typically operates at street level in urban zones, able to make tight turns in busy intersections. Using a single vehicle along a track allows the system to operate safely in high traffic and in high pedestrian traffic areas while linking neighborhoods with activity centers. The ability to share lanes with other vehicle types and to operate in mixed traffic offers a key selection factor for cities like Tucson, because it eliminates the need for additional infrastructure to support signaling and communication systems.
Curbside or median platforms are simple to construct and require minimum passenger amenities and information. Overhead contact systems can be hung by span wire, taking advantage of existing shared-used poles with street lights and anchors embedded in building facades. The biggest construction disruption comes from the need to relocate underground utilities. In most cases, construction can progress without a need to shut down an entire roadway.
Heading to the Finish Line
With Phase I complete and local funding components in place, Tucson is well into the second of three major phases required to bring its modern streetcar system on-line. Operations are anticipated to begin in 2011. The Tucson system will include 3.9 miles of track alignment, with 19 stations and seven streetcars with a capacity of 130 passengers each.
Phase II involves environmental assessments and advanced conceptual engineering, expected to be complete later this year. It was during the early stages of Phase II that the USGBC requested nominations for its LEED-ND pilot program.
Phase III moves the project into final design and construction. Total capital costs are estimated at $144 million, with costs split 50/50 between local funding backed by a half-cent raise in local sales tax rates approved by the voters in 2006 and FTA Small Starts funds.
The benefits of the Tucson modern streetcar project will be felt for decades, as economic development along the streetcar route follows the opening of the line while reducing vehicle traffic in the downtown core helps control greenhouse gas emissions over the long term.
From a livability point of view, Tucson’s investment in a modern streetcar system will provide a sustainable transportation system for the city’s future. From a transit planning point of view, Tucson’s modern streetcar will be the first streetcar project to obtain both FTA Small Starts funding and LEED-ND certification, making it truly a model for a sustainable transportation system.
Reece Hanifin is a planner and Terry Nash is a transportation engineer with HDR, based in HDR’s Phoenix office.