After 17 years, RTA still going strong

On May 16, 2006, Pima County voters went to the polls and by a wide margin approved the Regional Transportation Authority plan.

In the 17 years since the plan passed, the RTA  has brought improvements from one end of Pima County and the Tucson metro region to the other. Whether it’s the iconic Sun Link streetcar, greatly expanded bus service, new paratransit services, hundreds of miles of bike lanes, or the many miles of expanded roadways, the voter-approved plan investments have helped to fundamentally change and improve our transportation network.

“The RTA is a monumental accomplishment and speaks to the shared commitment and cooperation of our partner jurisdictions to improving the transportation system for the region,” said RTA Chair Ed Honea.

The 20-year, $2 billion plan is funded through a countywide half-cent sales tax also approved by voters in 2006.

How we got here

A regional transportation plan to address cross-jurisdictional needs was long sought by elected leaders and citizen activists over the decades. But many transportation sales tax initiatives did not earn voter approval.

Plans in the 1960s and 1970s to construct crosstown freeways and parkways were rejected at the polls. A plan in 1986 to build 22 miles of highways and grade-separated interchanges similarly did not gain the public’s support. The effort to fund grade-separated interchanges was revived in 1990, but the public did not embrace that plan either. 

Pima County passed bonding plans in 1997 and 2004 to fund needed roadway corridor improvements and expansions. However, the vision of a widespread, regionwide, and comprehensive transportation system improvement plan seemed fleeting.

But that would begin to change in August 2004, when then-Gov. Janet Napolitano signed legislation reestablishing a Regional Transportation Authority for Pima County with Pima Association of Governments as the manager. The new RTA would include representatives from the county, cities, towns, tribal governments, and the Arizona Department of Transportation.

The newly formed RTA governing board quickly began planning for a regionwide transportation plan to address needed improvements. Through the work of the board, committees and extensive public input, the 2006 RTA plan was put on the ballot. This time, the voters approved the plan.

A history of accomplishments

In the 17 years since voters approved the plan, the RTA, working with member jurisdictions, completed more than 950 projects that have improved the transportation network.

The half-cent sales tax that funds the RTA plan is the largest single source of transportation funding for the region, providing about $100 million annually. These funds have provided for extensive improvements and expansions for roadway corridors, the regional transit system, and more.

Among the major accomplishments of the plan are the completion of 18 roadway corridor projects to date, with others in planning. These include:

  • Broadway Boulevard, Country Club to Euclid Avenue
  • Broadway, Camino Seco to Houghton Road
  • Twin Peaks Road, Silverbell Road to Interstate 10
  • Sabino Canyon Road connection to Kolb Road
  • Magee Road/Cortaro Farms Road, La Cañada Drive to Thornydale Road
  • Valencia Road, Ajo Highway to Mark Road
  • Valencia, Alvernon Way to Kolb Road
  • La Cholla Boulevard, River Road to Ruthrauff Road

In addition, 10 more roadway corridors have been partially completed.

Also, among the 959 completed RTA projects:

  • 195 of 200 intersections
  • 78 of 80 pedestrian crossings
  • 139 of 200 bus pullouts
  • 179 of 250 miles of new sidewalks
  • 366 of 550 miles of new bike lanes

RTA funds contribute to expanded Sun Tran service on weekday evenings and weekends. Sun Express, which provides express bus transportation from outlying areas across the region to work centers, also benefited from RTA funding.

The 12 neighborhood circulator routes of Sun Shuttle receive funding, as well. Sun Shuttle routes across the region provide riders with connections to the Sun Tran bus system.

The 3.9-mile Sun Link streetcar system was built with a combination of RTA funds, federal grants and local funds. The streetcar route provides service in five major urban districts, including the Mercado District on the west side, downtown Tucson, Fourth Avenue, Main Gate Square and the University of Arizona campus. The RTA also funds annual streetcar operations.

More than 55% of all the RTA plan improvements since 2006 have been within the City of Tucson. Additionally, more than 62% of RTA-funded transit offerings have enhanced service within the City of Tucson.

“The impressive scope and breadth of improvements across Pima County made possible by the RTA have, without exaggeration, transformed the regional transportation system,” said Honea, who is also Mayor of Marana.

What the future holds

The 20-year plan and tax will expire in 2026. In anticipation of that, the Regional Transportation Authority and citizen volunteers on its citizens’ advisory committee (CAC) have been working to develop a new plan to address transportation needs and fund improvements for another 20 years.

A new RTA plan and half-cent sales tax will provide about $2.3 billion in transportation funding over 20 years for roadway corridor improvements, safety and modernization projects, environmental and economic vitality, and transit support.

The plan development process integrates RTA governing board policies, expert technical considerations, and local perspectives. The Board set a deadline of July 1 for the CAC to provide a draft plan. At that time, the Board may refine the plan to present it for public review and feedback.

The board may then decide to call an election for Pima County voters to make the final decision on a new 20-year RTA plan.

Learn more about what the RTA has in its 17-year history in our annual report.