By David Pittman
Increased safety, reduced congestion, and prettier, more scenic roads.
These are just some of the benefits Southern Arizonans gained from the 20-year regional transportation plan and half-cent sales tax passed by Pima County voters in 2006. That plan will soon end and the Regional Transportation Authority is looking ahead at a plan for the next 20 years.
Since the passage of the first plan, the RTA has provided more than $1.2 billion for construction, maintenance and services on highways, streets, bridges, intersections, sidewalks, transit, bus pullouts, bike paths, pedestrian crossings and signal technology throughout the county. As of May, more than 860 RTA projects have been completed throughout Pima County.
In the process, the RTA created tens of thousands of construction jobs to address infrastructure improvements, which, in turn, induced vast private commercial investments and enormous economic growth.
The current RTA plan expires in June 2026 and, looking ahead to the next 20 years and slate of projects, the RTA Board has tasked a 35-member Citizens Advisory Committee to produce a new plan. The CAC’s members represent all parts of the county and will work in tandem with the RTA Technical Management Committee.
Pima County Supervisor and RTA Board Chair Ramon Valadez said the “ultimate objective is to present a regional plan to voters that they will support and agree to fund through an extension of the RTA tax. This fund is critical to supporting our infrastructure needs, so it’s important we work together to get the draft plan voter-ready to meet our goal of providing an enhanced regional transportation system.”
Based on suggestions from the citizen’s committee, several guiding principles for development of a new regional plan have been articulated. These include a prioritization of regionally significant transportation needs, an implementation timeline with a budget and specific projects identified, enhancement and improvement of the system’s overall efficiency, and identification of future funding committments from each jurisdiction. Providing safer bicycle and pedestrian facilities, maintaining or improving air quality, creating better access to workplaces, and adding functionality to key corridors are also on the list.
Valadez, a member of the RTA board since its inception, said the second RTA plan will be developed utilizing the same “citizen driven, accountable and transparent” methods as the first. And most importantly, will be designed “together as one region absent of jurisdictional boundaries or turf wars.”
The original RTA legislation gave both Pima County and the City of Tucson unilateral veto power over any action of the RTA, but no such veto was ever issued.
“During an RTA discussion meeting of the PAG Regional Council in 2004, I surrendered the Pima County veto and invited my friend, Tucson Mayor Robert Walkup, to do the same – which he did,” Valadez recalled. “We did this because we understood that if we were to be successful, this had to be a collaborative effort of all partners in our region.”
Thomas McGovern, principle emeritus/consultant at Psomas, a leading Southwestern U.S. engineering firm, is chair of the CAC. He, too, is no stranger to the RTA process, having served on the CAC that developed the first RTA plan. A prominent Tucson business leader, McGovern is a board member of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council and a former board chair for the Tucson Metro Chamber.
McGovern said the CAC is in the early stages of creating the first draft of the new plan. After the initial plan is completed, he said there must be increased public input, plan refinement, and a final review by the RTA board and the various jurisdictions involved. No dates have been set for completion of the plan or the upcoming election.
“The RTA board would like our committee to work with all due haste in producing the plan so it can be examined by the public,” McGovern said. “In the end, voters must say ‘yes’ to the plan twice. In addition to approving the proposal itself, they must also pass the sales tax for another 20-year period.”