All Downtown Streetcar Tracks Should Be in Place in About a Month

March 26, 2013

by Teya Vitu

During March, 4th Avenue and University Boulevard became the first stretches to take on the look of how the 3.9-mile route of the Sun Link Tucson Modern Streetcar will appear.

The track work is finished on those two streets, and the power lines above the tracks – the Overhead Contact Systems – were strung during March.

Congress Street has been shut to traffic to install this track switch at Congress and 5th Avenue.

Congress Street has been shut to traffic to install this track switch at Congress and 5th Avenue.

The week of March 25 is seeing construction of the first five streetcar stops on 4th Avenue and University. These are at 9th Street, 7th Street, 5th Street, 3rd Avenue, and Tyndall Avenue. Shade canopies will be installed in that order, from west to east, said Joe Chase, the streetcar project construction manager for the Tucson Transportation Department.

Park Avenue reopened March 15 after being closed for several months from University Boulevard to 2nd Street. This two-block stretch involved installing two, 90-degree curves.

Congress Street was shut down at Toole Avenue for the second time on Feb. 21 to allow crews to install a track switch.

The very first stretch of the modern streetcar track was built with the 4th Avenue Underpass from 2007-09 before Sun Link was officially approved or fully funded. This included a loop around the Rialto Block (Congress, 5th Avenue, Broadway, Toole Avenue).

The loop was built to allow the Old Pueblo Trolley to extend its run to Downtown’s east end. But with just a loop, there was no way to continue straight on Congress. Chase said a track switch was not available at that time, nor was the Modern Streetcar an official project yet. If anything, the track was extended to the Rialto Block at that time in order to complete the street and track work through the underpass as the same time.

Since Congress was closed at Toole, the curved tracks turning from Congress onto 5th Avenue were removed and replaced with a switch to enable the streetcar to go straight or turn left.

The intersection work should be done by April 11-12 with Congress at that time once again reopened for traffic from Toole to Church.

The final Congress stretch from Church to Granada Avenue should be finished toward the end of April or early May. This will allow the full run of Congress Street to be open for vehicle traffic for the first time since streetcar construction started April 9, 2012.

Streetcar tracks were installed on March 10 on Broadway from Scott Avenue to Stone Avenue and from 6th Avenue to 5th Avenue. The section from 6th Avenue to Thunder Canyon Brewery started getting set in concrete in March 22. That should be done by the end of the month.

Streetcar tracks on Broadway are getting set in concrete.

Streetcar tracks on Broadway are getting set in concrete.

Broadway has been reduced to one lane to allow for this track work. Water line work had already reduced lanes on Broadway since July.

“After Friday or the 1st of April, everything east of Church will have two lanes,” Chase said.

There is now continuous eastbound track from Church Avenue to 2nd Street and Warren Avenue. Westbound, all the track is in place from Warren to Congress and 5th Avenue.

Stone Avenue reopened through Broadway on March 22.

“We are hoping to be paved and out of Downtown in June,” Chase said.

All track work should finish around the end of June or early July. The last segment will be Cushing Street from Avenida del Convento, across the Luis G. Gutierrez Bridge and through the freeway underpass to link with the completed track on Granada Avenue.

“There’s not a lot more places for track to go,”

The only other section without track is the Warren Avenue Underpass beneath Speedway. A deep trench had to be dug so the streetcar could fit through the underpass. The streetcar will travel through the underpass about 6 to 8 feet lower than pedestrians.

By the numbers, 21,440 feet (4.06 miles) of straight rail and 5,420 feet (1.02 miles) of curved rail have been installed so far. Between now and June-July, 5,450 feet (1.03 miles) of straight rail and 4,762 feet (.9 miles) of curved rail still remain to be installed.

The track work has caused traffic disruption, but the streetcar route also includes 530 poles that will support the Overhead Contact System power lines. So far 243 of the OCS poles have been installed, 400 foundations have been drilled and 1 mile of cable has been strung on 4th Avenue and University Boulevard.

This week streetcar stop canopies are getting installed on 4th Avenue and University Boulevard.

This week streetcar stop canopies are getting installed on 4th Avenue and University Boulevard.

In March 2012, the first streetcar had been expected delivered to Tucson around October 2012 with public streetcar service projected to start in November 2013.

By summer, streetcar delivery from Oregon Iron Works in Portland was pushed back to February and recently to April 2013, but those delays did not impact the expected November service.

Now, however, the first of eight streetcars is not expected to arrive in Tucson until July with the last streetcar expected in summer 2014.

The streetcar’s expected debut in Tucson’s public transit system now has been pushed back from November 2013 to summer 2014.

At a March 2012 open house, transportation officials said the real driver in determining when streetcar service starts was tied to the construction schedule for the actual streetcars by Oregon Iron Works.

Tucson has to wait for Oregon Iron Works to finish building streetcars for Portland, which is expanding its streetcar line across the Willamette River.

Tucson is partnering with Portland in designing the Modern Streetcar. Tucson will get the same streetcar (except for the beefed up A/C system) used for the Portland streetcar, which has run for 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, and has operated since the 1970s).