Building a modern streetcar and a stronger downtown in Tucson, AZ

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild "breaking ground" with other dignitaries for Tucson's streetcar on April 12

What do Tucson, Seattle, Washington DC, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Sacramento, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles and Providence have in common? They are just a few of up to 40 communities across the country currently planning or building streetcar lines connecting neighborhoods to their downtowns.

Tucson is the latest city to jump on the streetcar bandwagon. The city’s 3.9 mile, 196.6 million Sun Link streetcar project broke ground earlier this week, and once complete will offer direct, high-capacity transit connections between downtown Tucson, the University of Arizona and the Arizona Health Sciences Center. The project stems from a community partnership of diverse stakeholders, including Arizona’s Congressional delegation, the state’s Regional Transportation Authority, the University of Arizona, Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, the city’s business community and neighborhood advocates who all worked together to make the streetcar project a reality.

Support for the project comes from a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Discretionary Grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). TIGER grants are part of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities, a collaboration between DOT, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development which coordinates federal housing, transportation, water, and other infrastructure investments to make neighborhoods more prosperous, allow people to live closer to jobs, save households time and money and reduce pollution.

A rendition of the Sun Link streetcar
DOT has committed $78.7 million thus far to Tucson’s $196.6 million streetcar project, including $63 million in TIGER funds and $15.7 million from other DOT grants. The $63 million grant to Tucson is the largest of DOT’s TIGER transit grants.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood joined hundreds of Tucsonans to celebrate the project’s groundbreaking April 12. “Tucson is joining a growing list of American cities…where the modern streetcar is spurring economic development, revitalizing downtown neighborhoods, and attracting a new generation of riders,” LaHood said at the event.

The streetcar is projected to be a major help to the economy in and around Tucson by spurring downtown development and improving home values. A similar project in Portland, OR, for example, brought 10,212 new housing units and 5.4 million square feet of new commercial space to the streetcar neighborhoods – and Tucson officials expect a similar effect. In addition, research projects homes are worth up to 30% more along transit lines as people become interested in living near the streetcar route.

The project will also benefit the economy by creating jobs, and is expected to generate an estimated 1,200 construction-related jobs as well as an additional 1,650 related jobs in over 19 industries as a result of construction activities. Research also projects an estimated 1,480 long-term regional jobs will be created as a result of the streetcar.

“This is not only about a streetcar system,” Secretary LaHood said in a recent article. “This is about the jobs that will be provided that would not have been provided if it hadn’t been for the vision of so many in this community.”

Tucson’s modern streetcar vehicles will be part of the first order of vehicles manufactured in the United States in nearly 60 years.Perhaps most importantly, Tucson’s streetcars will provide one more option for how Arizonans can get around conveniently and affordably. Sun Link will serve a population of 85,000 and is expected to improve travel times over the current bus service. Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said, “Sun Link will connect neighborhoods. It will connect homes. It will connect businesses. It will connect restaurants and entertainment. It will connect the university. It will connect the downtown business district. It will connect Tucson’s West Side.”

In addition, as legislators make a push for “Made in America” transit vehicles to support the American economy, Tucson’s modern streetcar vehicles will be part of the first order of vehicles manufactured in the United States in nearly 60 years. Oregon Iron Works Inc./United Streetcar of Portland, Ore., was awarded the contract to build the cars.

“I think this is a wonderful project and it will enhance the community of Tucson for years to come,” said Bruce Vaughan, director of UA Real Estate Administration. “I think it will help economically, with transportation, moving people around, and I think it will help redevelop downtown Tucson.”

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