Further delays in the Tucson Modern Streetcar project were announced recently, causing the date for the start of operations to be pushed back from October to the second quarter of 2014.
On top of these delays, the streetcar will most likely only run until 1 a.m. This is in contrast to Tempe’s light rail system, which shuttles ASU students from their residences to the bars on Mill Avenue late into the night. The light rail’s last trip starts at 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and reaches the last stop at 3 a.m.
As an idea, the streetcar is an understandable investment that shows that Tucson has its eyes on the future. In practice, however, the project has been poorly executed.
Tucson is more like a very large town than a city; it’s extremely spread out and many students live outside of the streetcar’s proposed service area. Despite the increasing number of apartment complexes in the area, a lot of students don’t live on campus, near University Boulevard or near Fourth Avenue.
This is important because the streetcar system is ostensibly targeted towards students. Most of the tracks are in areas heavily populated and frequented by students. Students, especially those from out-of-state, are likely not to have a car, but they still want to take advantage of local restaurants and nightlife.
If the system is targeted towards students, why, then, will it not run until at least 2 a.m.? The apparent goal of the streetcar is to transform Tucson into a more cosmopolitan city, particularly the area around the university. But if Sun Link wants to actually change Tucson, it needs to commit.
The problem is not just the delays; it’s the lack of transparency.
Authorities haven’t kept residents informed about when construction will occur and how long it will take.
On the construction updates section of the Tucson Modern Streetcar’s website, updates for the week of Jan. 14 state only that construction on Park Avenue, which has been restricting foot and vehicle traffic for months now, is “ongoing.” A small blurb says that the closure is expected to be in place through January 21.”
While it’s impossible to predict exactly when work will be done — heavy rains in mid-September caused weeks of delays — students and business owners expect some information, and that information is woefully absent.
Arbitrarily limiting how late the streetcar runs will only make the months of sacrifices by local students and business owners less worthwhile.
Up to this point, local businesses have been able to deal with the decrease in business caused by the construction. But at what point will businesses simply no longer be able to sustain themselves due to lost business? Will the streetcar actually make up for these losses?
There is an assumption that the streetcar, once completed, will automatically boost business. But it’s unlikely that Tucson residents will start using the streetcar instead of driving, which means students will have to pick up the slack. With an early closing time, incessant delays and a serious dependence on students, Sun Link is riding the fine line between success and failure.
-David Weissman is a journalism junior. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter via @WildcatOpinions