Feb 5, 2014 11:09 AM by Tom McNamara and Paul Birmingham
The latest in the fleet of Tucson's Modern Streetcars, the fourth of eight, rolled into Tucson on Tuesday. It's still months before you'll be able to step on-board, as engineers test the cars before revenue service begins this summer. Yet, there are still plenty of questions that need to be answered about the nearly $200M project.
The News 4 Tucson Investigators went digging for answers to some of those lingering questions. What we learned has some Tucson taxpayers, and would-be streetcar riders upset.
Crews have been busy putting the cars through their paces along the 3.9 mile route from the University of Arizona Medical Center on the east, to a partially undeveloped area west of Interstate 10.
That brings us to our first question, about what is really going on along the west end of the line: is the city's taxpayer-funded project rolling on a track to nowhere?
A brand new stop is ready for Tucson's Modern Streetcar near Cushing Street and Avenida Convento. The trouble is, there's not a whole lot else in that area.
Shellie Ginn, Project Manager with the Tucson Department of Transportation tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators, looks can be deceiving when it comes to what appears to be a whole lot of nothing west of Interstate 10.
"Typically, when you have start-up systems, or when you're building a bridge at a time, you always have a bridge to nowhere, or a path to nowhere. Eventually, you connect all those, and that concept goes away, because you start seeing the big picture. So, that bridge right now is put in place, in order to be able to reach over to that west portion, connect that western development area to the Downtown and the Fourth Avenue and University area, so it will make sense once the development comes," Ginn says.
Another question the News 4 Tucson Investigators wanted answered: how late will the streetcar actually run?
We uncovered an archived version of the city's Modern Streetcar website from back in the summer of 2011. The site clearly said the streetcar would run until 2:00 a.m. daily. By February, 2012, the website had been changed, and the 2:00 a.m. reference was gone.
It turns out that 2:00 a.m. is the cut-off time for Saturday night into Sunday morning. City officials tell the News 4 Tucson Investigators, they're still working out the other operating hours for other days, including Thursday and Fridays.
That uncertainty has some would-be streetcar riders feeling they've been misled by what was posted online.
"That's kind of ridiculous, because most people are out here until about 2 a.m. It's also safer, so the fact that they don't want it to continue to 2 a.m., now that I know that, that kind of bothers me. Don't say something if you're not going to follow through with it," says Tucsonan, Samantha Valencia.
"There have been a lot of changes already in the way that the streetcar has been going, from the finishing date to the cost. Now, if the time is shutting down sooner, it's kind of like we're running out of reasons to have the streetcar," adds UA student, Peter Papp.
"That's not cool, that's lame. Bars don't even start getting busy until like midnight, so that wouldn't help at all. Like, we would maybe be able to take it to get to a bar, but by the time everybody is drinking and ready to go anywhere else, it's already going to be turned off you're not going to be able to take it anywhere," says UA student Alex Timmons.
Ginn tells the News 4 Tucson Investigators, the city understands the concern about streetcar service possibly not continuing until 2 a.m. every day, but it's a question of the cost of operation versus how many people will actually ride the streetcar during those late-night hours after the bars close.
"There is a desire to have service until 2 a.m. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings, and that is when it's most busy along the line, so we're looking at that right now to see if we're able to accommodate it," Ginn says.
The News 4 Tucson Investigators will continue to keep you updated once the city decides on how late service will run.
If you have something you'd like the News 4 Tucson Investigators to check out, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the News 4 Tucson Investigators tip-line at (520) 955-4444.