Streetcar Construction Will Start in Late April

March 9, 2012

By Teya Vitu

Six years of Modern Streetcar planning will translate into streetcar action with the track installation set to start by the end of April.

The red lines indicate the first phase of streetcar construction starting in late April. The red lines are the second phase, which will happen later this year and in 2013.

Congress Street, Broadway, a section of 4th Avenue, University Boulevard and 2nd Street through the University of Arizona will all have driving restrictions, especially through the summer months, and continuing to the end of 2012.

“We want to get as much done in the summer months as we can,” said Jesse Gutierrez, streetcar construction manager for the Tucson Department of Transportation.

Congress and Broadway work will be done during nighttime hours to minimize business disruption as much as possible.

Broadway will have one lane open overnight and two lanes open during the day.

Congress will be detoured to either Pennington Street or Alameda Street starting some time in later April and continuing until about November, Gutierrez said.

Track construction will be done in leapfrog fashion on three stretches of Congress, starting with the block between 5th and 6th avenues. Underground utility work will be done first, followed by track laying and then grading and paving.

While the track work and paving is underway, the utility work will close off a second stretch of Congress from 6th to Stone avenues. Work will still be going on in these two stretches when utility work moves to the Stone to Granada section.

“For a certain period of time, you will see a closure through the whole zone (on Congress from 5th to Granada avenues),” Gutierrez said.

4th Avenue will be closed to all vehicle traffic from University to 6th Street from late April until about July, and then the street closure will shift from 6th Street to 8th Street.

Old Pueblo Trackworks will build the 3.9 million, $196 million streetcar in two phases. Most of the track will go down in Phase 1. Phase 2 later this year and in 2013 will mostly involve the curved tracks needed on Granada and for all the intersection turns.

The Modern Streetcar is projected to start public service in late 2013.

The Modern Streetcar project has been a moving target of construction dates and completion dates. Planning started in 2004 but the Modern Streetcar concept did not emerge until 2006.

Back in May 2007, the projected completion date was early 2010.

Then in 2009, the timeline called for a streetcar in operation in time for the Centennial celebrations in February 2012.

When federal funding was finally nailed down in February 2010, streetcar construction was expected to start in the first quarter of 2011 and be finished in the second half of 2012.

All those year-to-year streetcar service projections came either before funding was locked up or designs were drawn. Since U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood delivered a $63 million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) discretionary fund check, the Tucson Department of Transportation changed the contracting process to build the route.

Instead of separate contracts for the four segments of the streetcar route, it was decided to have a single contract cover the entire route. Plus, TDOT decided to use a different rail for the track. This pushed back the start date yet another year

Old Pueblo Trackworks won the $55.9 million construction contract. This is a joint venture between the local Granite Construction and Lakeville, Minn.-based RailWorks Track Systems, which has built light rail projects in Dallas, Seattle, St. Louis and elsewhere.

RailWorks is doing the track installation and Granite is doing “everything else,” including demolition, underground sewer and water line work, grading and paving, said Gene Ramirez, project manager for Old Pueblo Trackworks.

The Modern Streetcar is budgeted at $196 million, but may end up costing less as bids for many contracts have all been coming in below budget, said Shellie Ginn, streetcar project manager for the Tucson Department of Transportation.

The Regional Transportation Authority is supplying $75 million for streetcar construction and the TIGER grant is supplying $63 million. Other funds are paying for the $14 million Luis G. Gutierrez Bridge (formerly Cushing Street Bridge) across the Santa Cruz River, $3.6 million comes from the city’s development agreement with the Gadsden Companies, and utilities are to supply their own funding.

“We now have all the funding necessary for the project,” Ginn said.

Even with all the pushed back starting dates for street work, the real driver in determining when streetcar service will start is tied to the construction schedule for the actual streetcars by Oregon Ironworks in Portland.

Tucson is partnering with Portland in designing the Modern Streetcar. Tucson will get the same streetcar used for the Portland Streetcar, which has run for nearly a decade from the Pearl District, through downtown to Portland State University. (The Portland Streetcar should not be confused with the Portland MAX light rail system, which uses larger trains.)

The Modern Streetcar also does not compare with Phoenix’s light rail. The Phoenix system has 100-foot long cars while the Tucson Modern Streetcar measures 65 feet and is more maneuverable in narrow streets and turning at intersections.

Tucson has to wait for Oregon Ironworks to finish building streetcars for Portland, which is expanding its streetcar line across the Willamette River. Manufacturing the first of seven Tucson streetcars should start in May with the first car completed in October, Ginn said.