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Thursday, December 18, 2014 | Last updated: 2:38pm

Streetcar to 'link four miles of community' when it opens this summer



The Sun Link Tucson Streetcar is on the right track.

The project has moved from the construction and production phase to testing and training throughout the course of the past year. At this point, testing is about to be completed and the preparation for startup will begin, according to Carlos de Leon, the deputy director of the Tucson Department of Transportation.

The city is going to move forward next with the Streetcar Street-Smart campaign, said Shellie Ginn, the streetcar project manager.

“We are trying to educate cyclists, pedestrians [and motor vehicle drivers about] how to function on a line that has a streetcar system, because it’s a completely new type of system to our community,” Ginn said.

Joan Beckim, who has been responsible for public outreach and education on the project, said the community has been very receptive to the streetcar.

“We want everyone to say, ‘OK, my behavior may influence someone else’s behavior, so be really conscious of how you’re driving,’” Beckim said. “There’s a bit of a learning curve for everyone, but overall it’s been very successful.”

Between the arrival of the first streetcar last August and the seventh streetcar last week, construction has been completed, operators have been hired and testing and training has begun, Ginn said. The eighth and final streetcar is scheduled to arrive later this month.

Ginn said construction and landscaping companies are also receiving training on how to work along the line. The high voltage of the overhead wires makes working around them very dangerous, and companies must receive permits before doing so.

The project faced many challenges in order to reach this point in development, Ginn said, including minimizing the impact on businesses, educating about parking along the streetcar route and training police and staff to respond quickly to any issues that might arise on the streetcar.

The delivery of each streetcar also had the potential to create problems, de Leon said.

“There’s a lot of complexity with a number of moving parts,” de Leon said, “so on a schedule we look at what’s called the critical path, which is kind of the one thing that if you don’t get this, you can’t move on to that.”

Despite the challenges along the way, the streetcar will provide advantages for the entire community. De Leon added that economic development began happening along the streetcar line as the project was being implemented, with millions of dollars invested in the development.

The streetcar will also provide greater mobility for university students, Beckim said, connecting them with housing, off-campus classes and entertainment options, which they might not otherwise have a way to reach.

“What it does is really link four miles of our community together,” Beckim said.

With the streetcar scheduled to open on July 25, the final stages of testing and preparation are soon to begin. The next challenge, Ginn said, is to ensure that all of the different pieces of the puzzle are integrated and function together.

Ginn said everyone is optimistic that the project will be successfully implemented by the opening date.

“I think this is going to be a wonderful project, and everyone is going to enjoy riding the streetcar,” de Leon said, “and not only enjoy it, but like where it takes them.”


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