Streetcar Update: First 720 Feet of Track are Finished

May 29, 2012

The first new streetcar tracks have been installed on 4th Avenue.

By Teya Vitu

Six weeks after Modern Streetcar construction started, the first 720 feet of rail tracks were in place on 4th Avenue.

From here on, track installation should be going on somewhere along Congress Street, 4th Avenue and University Boulevard on a continuing basis, said Jesse Gutierrez, the streetcar project construction manager for the city Transportation Department.

“A month from now, you’ll see a lot more activity,” he said.

By the end of August, the first phase of track installation should be finished with streetcar track in place on Congress Street from Toole to Stone avenues; on 4th Avenue from University Boulevard to 6th Street; and on University Boulevard from 3rd Avenue to Park Avenue.

These are the stretches of Downtown area streets that have been fenced off and torn up since construction started on April 9. They comprise Phase 1 of track and utility work on the 3.9-mile streetcar route. Phase 2 later this year and in 2013 will mostly involve the curved tracks needed on Granada Avenue and for all the intersection turns.

Sidewalks have always been open with easy access to businesses in the construction zones.

The first track went down the week of May 21 with a 720-foot stretch of track now set in concrete on 4th Avenue south of University Boulevard.

“This is what’s called a demonstration track to inspect, verify and make sure we’re OK with the process and materials,” Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez is fond of describing the project at this point in terms of the Theory of Evolution.

“It’s the progress of Darwin’s theory,” Gutierrez said while driving through the 4th Avenue construction zone. “You have fish growing legs becoming reptiles and then you get to a man who can walk.”

He applied the evolutionary theory to the 4th Avenue zone, where the last piece of street asphalt was removed in the days before Memorial Day at 6th Street, while two blocks north track was ready for streetcar service.

The same evolution applies to the other Phase 1 construction zones on Congress Street and University Boulevard.

Congress Street is in the finishing phases of installing new water and sewer lines from Stone to 6th Avenue, while water line work has not yet started between 5th and 6th avenues.

The work started April 9 with the removal of 3½ inches of street surface asphalt from 2005 and a 12-inch concrete road base, probably from the 1960s. That left a dirt surface reminiscent of Congress Street 100 years ago.

“You know, you start on the bottom and go to the top,” Gutierrez said. “Sewer, water, roadway grading, pole foundations, track, aggregate base core, asphalt.”

So far, the Congress Street work has mostly involved replacing an aging water main with a new 12-inch water line running 5½  feet below the surface. 8-inch water lines lead to each of the businesses.

The Stone to 6th Avenue water line went in May 7 to 19. New sewer lines also were installed.

The real action has been at Congress Street and Scott Avenue. What do you do with water and sewer lines crossing each other and going off in four different directions?

The water lines drop from 5½ feet to 14 feet below the surface to yield to the sewer lines at the intersection and then returns to 5½ feet. Sewer is gravity fed while water is pressure fed and can be more easily manipulated, Gutierrez said.

Water and sewer line work at Congress and Scott goes down 14 feet.

The Congress/Scott work also involved linking the 8-inch Scott Avenue water line to the 12-inch line on Congress.

In June, Congress/Scott will see electrical conduit work for new traffic signals and also for the streetcar power poles.

Once the water line work is done between Stone and 6th, work will move one block east for new water line installation between 5th and 6th Avenues, in front of the One North Fifth Apartments and HUB Restaurant & Ice Creamery/Playground Lounge.

Storm drainage work and a new sewer manhole cover have already been done on that stretch of Congress between 5th and 6th.

University of Arizona class schedules dictated when streetcar work started in the Main Gate Square area of University Boulevard. Between 3rd Avenue and Euclid Avenue, University was shut down April 30 with the Euclid to Park Avenue work starting May 15 “right after school was out,” Gutierrez said.

“We did all the sewer line (on University),” he said. “Now we are starting the water line.”

The 8½-inch sewer line was buried 8 to 10 feet down, while the 8½-inch water line will be 5 feet down.

The most out-of-sight, out-of-mind part of the project is the Luis G. Gutierrez Bridge – the bridge carrying Cushing Street across the Santa Cruz River. It should be finished by July 7 and should open to pedestrians and bicyclists some time later in July. But the bridge will not open for motorized vehicle traffic until streetcar tracks are installed, likely in December and January.