Paul's Note - May 28th, 2021

Last week, I gave some reasons why I am skeptical about having the city participate in an extension of the Regional Transportation Authority. One fact I didn’t mention: the fact that many current RTA projects, particularly in the city, may not end up fully funded. 

At last week’s council meeting, we were given a list of RTA projects in the city that our transportation staff reports will not be fully funded. The projection was that we will be $282 million short. This includes the final phase of the Houghton Road Corridor, which is predicted to have a $31.8 million shortfall. 

This does not mean that these plans will be abandoned, but it does mean that the scope that was originally promised on the ballot and in public meetings may be reduced. To put it simply, the RTA is short on money for projects that were scheduled for later in the life of the RTA. 

There were a few city projects that were part of the early phases of the RTA (southern portions of the Houghton Road Corridor, for example), but for the most part, city needs were scheduled later. The first projects scheduled tended to be in the county. Those items, being earlier, were fully funded. 

There are some realities that caused this to happen. Projects in unincorporated Pima County are simpler to plan and execute. For example, one of the earliest items completed was a section of frontage road south of Green Valley. Something like that is considerably less complex than, for example, Downtown Links. City projects were scheduled later to account for things such as outreach to neighbors, businesses and planning for traffic disruption. 

Whatever the necessity of the calendar, putting city needs later on the schedule has meant that our project budgets get affected by years of inflation.. RTA’s policies and procedures call for updating budgets based on inflation but that didn’t happen because the revenues never got up to the point where that was possible, mainly due to the recession. 

The shortfall has meant that the RTA has used other funds, what is referred to as “regional money,” to make the balance sheets work. Regional money includes federal transportation dollars as well as our regional share of Highway User Revenue Fund (money from the gas tax). This has meant that $300 million over several years is not available for other regional transportation needs. 

Of course, we can’t cure inflation by opting out of the RTA, but it will definitely give us more control of our transportation planning. 

We have some good news now that the temperatures are have gone up and look to stay there. The City of Tucson announces its plans to reopen 12 pools, including the pools at Udall and Fort Lowell Parks, for recreational swim and adult lap swim from June 3 to Aug. 4. Entrance to City pools will remain free throughout the summer. 

For complete information on City pools visit the Parks and Recreation website.