Battle looming over who owns Tucson's streetcar
CREATED Feb. 28, 2012
Reporter: Kevin Keen
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - Tucson's modern streetcar: a transit system meant to connect downtown, businesses, homes and the University of Arizona in late 2013. The project is paid for with a mixture of federal, regional and other funds totaling $197 million. So, once it's up and running, who will own it? The Regional Transportation Authority would now like to in part, but some city council members are resisting.
Two groups involved with the modern streetcar project--the city of Tucson and the Regional Transportation Authority--reached an agreement back in 2010: the city would own the finished product.
Now, RTA requests after the streetcar’s done, it and the city will discuss who owns which parts of the system.
“Our financial officer came back with some feedback from the credit agencies, basically saying you'd have a strong credit report for future bonding if you owned assets,” explained director of transit services Carlos de Leon. Those assets, he said, would help the agency borrow money more cheaply, allowing it to take on more projects benefiting Pima County communities.
“Obviously, we want to consider the assets that the streetcar has particularly since the RTA is the major investor in this project,” de Leon said. “We thought it totally reasonable that we look at: Should we own the streetcar vehicles themselves? Should we own the maintenance facility?”
Tucson City Council took up the proposal Tuesday evening as part of an update to the city and RTA’s agreement on how to manage and fund the streetcar. The same proposal would allow the city to accept $20 million in additional RTA funding for the project.
Several city council members were outraged RTA would bundle a funding addition and with, they said, a surprise measure to take eventual ownership of the streetcar.
Ultimately, however, mayor and council passed the resolution four to three.
Councilman Paul Cunningham voted to pass it because he didn’t want to jeopardize streetcar funding, but he told KGUN9 News he and other council members have no intention of ever giving up ownership of the project and its parts.
“The bottom line is that the RTA has to understand that we’re running the streetcar,” the ward two representative said. “We’re building the streetcar. We’re going to get it done. If we’re not going to get it done, then we’ll pull the plug.” KGUN9 reporter Kevin Keen asked: “And you’re owning the streetcar?” Cunningham replied: “Right. You’re absolutely right.”