Watch this fun time-lapse video from last year's graduation ceremony for a glimpse of the kind...
Jaime P. Gutierrez
UA External Relations
The project, which eventually will link the UA with Downtown Tucson, is expected to tie up parts of campus for about 18 months.
"Our Bright Future Starts Today" is the theme for the official launch this week of Tucson's Modern Streetcar, named SunLink. The payoff will be a new traffic amenity that is expected to knit the city and the University of Arizona campus closer together in ways that officials expect to benefit both.
In the immediate future – officially 475 days from start to finish – it's also going to be a bit messy, with some dust and detours, especially on the UA campus.
The April 12 event will feature Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and several other dignitaries to dedicate the 3.9-mile rail line. The cost of the project is estimated at $196.8 million, including the maintenance facility, vehicles and other supporting facilities.
The Modern Streetcar will run from just south of The University of Arizona Medical Center, through the UA, the West University neighborhood, the Fourth Avenue District and downtown, and end west of Interstate 10.
Actual construction has already begun. Old Pueblo Trackworks, the contractor for the project, has dug into parts of Second Street to locate and deal with underground utilities. A report from UA Parking and Transportation said workers have encountered old and fragile pipes, some of which were not quite where maps said they should be, and some that were not on any maps at all.
A chain-link fence has been installed on Second Street from Park Avenue to Mountain Avenue to separate pedestrians from construction hazards. Detour signs will route motorists and cyclists around construction, and some streets will either be closed or reduced to one-way.
Later, the Warren Avenue Underpass will be closed for about a year. Crews will modify the underpass to accommodate the streetcar where it will run underneath Speedway Boulevard.
Bill Davidson of UA Parking and Transportation said construction schedules will go out on a weekly basis as crews follow their schedules. Those schedules can change depending on unforseen delays.
CatTran routes also have been altered. That includes the shuttles that traverse Second Street and Park Avenue in the short term.
Eventually, said Davidson, one-way streets along or near the route will change to two-way, as each section of the project is completed. CatTran routes through campus may likely be altered as well. And, once completed, the Warren Avenue Underpass will still accommodate pedestrians and cyclists.
For the dedication event, those who park in Lot 2029, on Helen Street between Warren and Martin avenues, will be asked to park instead in the Highland Avenue garage. The lot will be closed on April 12 from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Jaime Gutierrez, the interim UA vice president for external relations, said the streetcar has the potential to be a "game changer" for the University and Tucson.
Gutierrez said when he served in the Arizona Legislature, Downtown Phoenix essentially closed at the end of the business day. The light rail system in the Valley that now links Arizona State University's main campus in Tempe with its Phoenix programs has been a boon for revitalization efforts there, and he said the potential for growth in Tucson is similar.
In fact, the UA already has a presence downtown in the historic Roy Place Building at Stone Avenue and Pennington Street. Last year, the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture located its interdisciplinary Urban Design Studio and the Drachman Institute, CALA's outreach arm, there.
Both colleges have plans to expand there in the future.
"The short-term goal is to link Downtown Tucson to the UA. We're a land-locked campus, 1.5 miles from downtown, so we're really almost a downtown campus," Gutierrez said.
"The Modern Streetcar will allow us to integrate academic programs, now and in the future. I think it's an opportunity to see what programs we can look at for the downtown area, our future presence there and what kinds of activities we will have there."
The target date to complete the modern streetcar route is November 2013.
Jaime P. Gutierrez
UA External Relations