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Looking ahead 20 years in transportation planning

As a metropolitan planning organization, Pima Association of Governments is federally required to conduct long-range transportation planning with a minimum planning horizon of 20 years. While that seems pretty far out there, how do we identify needs that are well into the future?

“We start by understanding trends in population growth, demographics and land use patterns,” said PAG Transportation Planning Director Paul Casertano. “We also work with our economic development partners to understand where future activity centers may be developed. This information helps us develop a transportation vision that supports the mobility and accessibility needs of our communities and, ultimately, positively affects our quality of life.”

PAG’s long-range transportation plan, which is updated every four years, sets that transportation vision for our region. The current 2045 Regional Mobility and Accessibility Plan was adopted by the PAG Regional Council in 2016 and will be updated again in 2020.

Leading up to the 2045 RMAP update in 2016, nearly 3,000 people contributed to the plan’s development through participation in surveys, workshops, open houses or other opportunities to comment. Public input is required and helps affirm the transportation vision.

The long-range planning horizon for the RMAP allows PAG to consider both contemporary needs and future technologies and innovations. Every 10 years, the RMAP update respects and considers voter-approved local general plans that have been revised by the individual communities to capture changing data, conditions and priorities.

In addition, the PAG Regional Council adopts minor revisions to the long-range plan as needed to maintain federal compliance and the region’s eligibility for funding. The long-range plan also sets safety and performance measures that move the region toward desired objectives and outcomes for its transportation system.

The 2045 RMAP complements individual community visions and can be used as a supplementary tool to address transportation and mobility issues on a regional scale. Local governments can use the aspirational long-range plan as they make decisions about transportation planning, land use, economic development and a range of other local issues to help fulfill the regional vision.

"Working together, PAG and its members can pool their resources to create and strengthen the region’s transportation infrastructure to support our vision for a viable economy and healthy transportation ecosystem," Casertano said.

Dissecting a roadway construction project

When a roadway is slated for construction, the timetable from start to finish includes a myriad of to do’s.

Typically, the first thing you will see in advance of the actual roadway construction is utility work. This can include upgrades to equipment for sewer, water, electric, gas, phone, cable or internet services.

“Oftentimes, utility work is done to take advantage of the roadway construction, so utilities can update equipment or replace materials that are nearing the end of their useful life,” said Jim DeGrood, Deputy Director of Pima Association of Governments. “The utilities try to reduce the number of times that roadways are torn up, and it doesn’t make sense to build a new road over utilities that will need to be replaced in the next few years.”

Not to be confused with the actual roadway construction, utility work is conducted and paid for by the respective utilities and not paid out of the project budget.

Project construction activities besides grading, drainage improvements, subgrade preparation and road surfacing include the installation of curbs, sidewalks, handicap ramps and bus pullouts. 

Final paving and striping often occur closer to project completion along with the final touches on landscaping, installation of lighting or public art fixtures and signs. 

Traffic shifts occur during some of this work to allow contractors easier access to complete the work at hand. Each project is unique and requires different construction elements. In addition, you never know what you will unearth. Archaeological finds, material delay, weather, aging utility infrastructure or other unforeseen conditions can set back the start date or progress of actual construction.

“The Regional Transportation Authority has a record of completing projects on time and within budget,” DeGrood said. PAG manages the RTA. “On all of our projects, we closely monitor the work we can control and, for the unforeseen challenges, we work together to move projects along as quickly as possible.”

On the Broadway East project, from Camino Seco to Houghton Road, for example, roadway construction is in progress as final water utility work is completed. 

“This project is actually ahead of schedule,” said Greg Orsini, Broadway East project manager for the City of Tucson. “The RTA Board accelerated the design of the project in response to the public concern about the roadway condition.” 

Part of roadway construction includes recognition of construction worker safety zones. “The speed limit on the Broadway project is 25 miles per hour,” said Chris Albright, president of KE&G Construction. 

Broadway East, November 2018       

“We appreciate the public’s support in honoring the speed limit during construction to ensure safety of the public and project’s construction workers.” 

Businesses near construction can be affected by traffic rerouting or commuters choosing alternative routes during construction. The project provides blue “Business Access” signs to help customers find driveways and reach their destinations. Some businesses also will display additional A-frames near the road and banners on their buildings to help remind the traveling public they are still open for business during construction. 

“We all know that construction will disrupt traffic flow and volumes to local businesses for extended periods of time,” said Britton Dornquast, RTA MainStreet business assistance program manager. “Businesses certainly appreciate every customer who continues to support them during these various improvement projects. We want to thank, while continuing to encourage, our communities who make that little extra effort to shop these construction zones. It makes a real difference for these businesses.”

How RTA projects are funded

Sunset BridgeThe Regional Transportation Authority is the largest transportation funder for our region on an annual basis. The RTA contributes 40 percent of $211 million that our region typically generates annually for transportation projects or services. Other funding sources, derived from federal and state gas taxes, come to our region via several other funding programs.

Some of the programs limit where the money can be spent. Funding from the Federal Transit Administration, for example, can only be spent on transit. Of the $211 million, the RTA funding provides our region with the most flexibility to spend money on the region’s transportation priorities.

The RTA funds are generated by a half-cent excise tax, which is collected from the RTA’s special taxing district within Pima County. This special taxing district was established by the state Legislature in 2004, so the RTA could develop a regional transportation plan that could be funded by taxes collected from this district. In May 2006, voters approved the RTA’s 20-year plan and the half-cent excise tax to fund it.

To-date, the RTA has invested over $1 billion in regional transportation projects from this tax, which continues through June 2026.

In anticipation of the tax expiration date, the RTA has established a 35-member citizens advisory committee to help in the development of an RTA continuation plan. 

The RTA board will determine a future date to ask voters to consider the continuation plan and an extension of the district’s half-cent excise tax. 

The committee, which has diverse representatives from across the region, carries the important role of helping the RTA validate regional transportation priorities and recommending priority projects to be funded. This will include an extensive public involvement process. 

The RTA Board values the need for our stakeholders to work together over the next several years to develop the continuation plan, engage the public and gain their support for the plan. Our focus will be to develop a plan that contributes to a quality transportation network for our residents and delivers projects that support business and job growth for our communities and our region. 

Slightly over 1 million people reside in the RTA taxing district. As our region’s population grows and our transportation infrastructure ages, we need to keep up with public demands for a safe, reliable and efficient transportation system. The flexibility of the RTA funding option will allow us to continue to meet those priority needs.

WANTED: Unwrapped toys to 'Fill the Streetcar'

Stop by the Regional Transportation Authority’s annual “Fill the Streetcar with Toys” event from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 14 at 8th Street, just west of 4th Avenue, to drop off new, unwrapped toys that will be donated to “Ramon’s Miracle on 31st Street” charity.

This is the RTA’s third year hosting the event with Sun Link. KGUN 9 is this year’s media sponsor.

Last year, the RTA collected 1,000 toys and is looking to reach 1,200 toys this year for Miracle on 31st Street, which anticipates more than 15,000 children this year. The charitable event is in its 48th year of giving toys to economically disadvantaged children in the Tucson metropolitan region.

Appearances will be made by Santa and the Grinch. Visit RTAmobility.com for more details.

Take the 2020 Census pledge

Census 2020 will be here before you know it. In early 2020, you will be asked to complete a census form through your phone, online or via a hard copy sent to you in the mail.

An accurate count is critical to our region and can lead to millions more in federal dollars for state and local programs.

PAG has set up a Count Me In pledge that you can sign today to demonstrate your commitment to help others understand the importance of everyone being counted.

The benefits of an accurate count for our region and the state of Arizona include:

  • Equitable representation in the U.S. House of Representatives. (Arizona could gain a seat or two with an accurate count in 2020)
  • A fair share of federal funding that supports both state and local programs (land use/housing/economic development; schools; transportation infrastructure; public safety/emergency services; health care services)
  • Better census data to help businesses and other organizations make decisions that can help lead to new business development and job growth.

Census day is April 1, 2020. Your community is counting on you to participate in this important enumeration. Please visit PAGregion.com/census to take the pledge.

New edition of comprehensive resource directory for southern Arizona businesses available

The 2019 edition of the Southern Arizona Small Business Resource Directory, a free publication of the Regional Transportation Authority’s MainStreet business assistance program, has just been released. Funded by the RTA, MainStreet provides free consulting services to businesses affected by the transportation improvement projects in the RTA plan. The directory, which is updated annually, is freely available to anyone looking for local resources for business owners/operators throughout southern Arizona.

 

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