Streetcar Track Work is in the Home Stretch

December 27, 2012

By Teya Vitu

Drive down 4th Avenue or University Boulevard and you could almost forget that they were shut down for streetcar track installation.

Traffic is flowing freely between Main Gate Square and 4th Avenue as if nothing had happened.

Granada Avenue should be done with streetcar track work before the Gem Show.

Granada Avenue should be done with streetcar track work before the Gem Show.

The streets reopened Dec. 5, just in time for the 4th Avenue Street Fair. 4th and University are the first stretches along the 3.9-mile streetcar route with completed track work for their entire stretch.

“We have track on over 3 miles. We just need 1 mile of track,” said Jesse Gutierrez, the streetcar project construction manager for the Tucson Transportation Department.

That final mile is now the major focus as most of the streetcar work has shifted to Congress Street west of Stone Avenue, Granada Avenue, and on the West Side between the Sentinel Plaza senior citizen apartments and Mercado San Agustin.

By the start of the Tucson Gem, Mineral & Fossil Showcase, the goal is to have track work done on Granada, which lays just beyond the largest gem show tent, and also have the western terminus loop completed at Congress and Avenida del Convento.

“We’re expediting this whole west end loop because we want to get it done before the gem show,” Gutierrez said.

Track work remains to be done on Park Avenue between University and 2nd Street and on Warren Avenue on the University of Arizona campus.

The two-block stretch on Park Avenue was saved until now because of the complexities of installing two 90-degree curves. The whole route’s curves were saved for Phase Two of track installation, which got started in October.

“The curves are double railed. It’s called a guard rail,” Gutierrez said. “It’s a lot more labor intensive than a single rail because they need to be spaced out and bolted together.”

Streetcar work arrived in force on the West Side the week of Dec. 17. One lane of Congress Street and one lane of Avenida del Convento were torn up to prepare the bed for the streetcar route’s western loop.

This will involve a minor amount of water line crossings, grading the surface, setting the track, encasing it in concrete and paving the street. Before Christmas, the first piece of track was already in place on what will become a new Linda Avenue, just east of the Sentinel Plaza apartments.

The streetcar will pass just outside the Sentinel Plaza senior apartment housing.

The streetcar will pass just outside the Sentinel Plaza senior apartment housing.

Right after Christmas, work started to pave Cushing Street from Avenida del Convento to the Luis G. Gutierrez Bridge.

Granada Avenue has been under construction since early October for extensive water line work. Especially Downtown, water and sewer line work take up the lion’s share of the time that streets are closed. The actual track work on any stretch has been done in a matter of days or about a week.

Track laying started on Granada in early December at the freeway frontage road and has progressed about halfway along the Tucson Convention Center parking lot. A trench is ready for track the rest of the way to Congress and track should be in place by mid-January.

“We’re moving fast,” Gutierrez said.

For as short as Congress Street is in the Downtown core, it has had disruption along some stretch of its seven blocks since streetcar construction started on April 9. The newest closure came right after Thanksgiving as Congress work started west of Church Avenue, alongside the Pima County administrative towers.

Work continues on the block in front of the Fox Theatre, which has proven to be the most perplexing along the entire route. It was supposed to be done in Phase One, like the Congress stretch now open to traffic from Toole Avenue to Scott Avenue. It will now be part of Phase Two and have track installed at the same time as the rest of West Congress, Granada and the West Side.

But Congress and Granada should all be done by the end of January.

“As soon as we get Congress and Granada done, we’ll be in here on Broadway. This will probably be the last thing we do on the project,” Gutierrez said.

All streetcar track work should be done in March, and the overhead electrical conductor lines and everything else should be finished in July. The first stretch of overhead lines will be strung down University Boulevard and 4th Avenue in January.

The first streetcar delivery is expected in February, and the streetcar should be operational in November.