July 29, 2014

Taking care of our transportation needs, Arizona Daily Star

By Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Special to the Arizona Daily Star

Tucson voters did the right thing when they passed the streets bond in 2012, putting $20 million a year toward road recovery over five years.

Now the city is doing its part — restoring roads as promised, according to schedule, with citizen oversight. You can read the Bond Oversight Commission’s first annual report here.

One thing it notes is this: The $100 million streets bond of 2012 “really needs to be just the beginning” to address Tucson’s transportation needs.

Dedicated 85 percent to arterial and collector streets — which we prioritized because they get the most use — the bond leaves just 15 percent for residential streets. And Tucson has more than 1,200 miles of residential streets that are in poor or very poor condition.

I have two proposals that can help.

First, I’m going to ask my colleagues on the City Council to put another five-year streets bond on the ballot in 2015, starting when the current one expires. By doing this, there’s no tax increase. If the new bond passes, our taxes stay the same but we get five more years of much-needed road restoration.

Second, we need to go to voters with a new RTA plan well before the current plan expires in 2026. As before, we’ll have communitywide conversations about our transportation needs. I believe the consensus will be that we need to direct more resources to pavement preservation, transit operations and maintenance. Again, no tax increase. We use the existing tax rate to address our transportation needs.

Everyone agrees we need to fix the roads we have. RTA funding could help us do that. That half-cent tax has brought Tucsonans hundreds of millions of dollars in road, safety and transit improvements. With voter authorization, we could put some of that same money toward other critical transportation needs.

Road recovery is a huge priority. But transit also needs a dedicated funding source. A separate, dedicated funding source is how other cities manage their transit systems.

When folks use transit, we all benefit from cleaner air and less traffic. There are many reasons why a city’s livability is linked, in part, to the quality of its transit system.

Bus routes don’t end at political boundaries. To get the transit system we deserve, that best serves our entire region, we need funding that’s regional, not just municipal. Regional funding for transportation and transit projects is what the RTA was designed to do.

Politics can be full of distractions, especially on issues we have no control over at the local level. We need to focus on issues we do have control over. We need to be practical.

City government has two jobs. Job No. 1 is to deliver core services efficiently and well, and roads and transit are core services. Job No. 2 is to do everything we can to make Tucson an ever-greater city in which to live and work. That includes economic development and job creation. Roads and transit play important roles there, too.

As federal and state governments provide less and less funding to cities, we have to be proactive about providing for ourselves. These proposals can help us do that, without raising taxes.

External link: http://tucson.com/news/opinion/column/guest/jonathan-rothschild-taking-care-of-our-transportation-needs/article_d1431a18-6464-5fea-8293-9265d744fbf4.html