Streetcars are back, and Tucson, Arizona is leading the way.
This southwestern city broke ground this week on the Sun Link Streetcar, the first new streetcar system built with federal funding in more than 60 years.
The $200 million, 3.9-mile project will connect downtown Tucson with the University of Arizona and the university’s medical center. The project received $60 million in federal funding through a TIGER grant. The remaining funding was provided by a portion of a voter-approved half-cent sales tax.
That investment appears to be paying off already. The project has already led to $400 million worth of spending commitments along the corridor, according to a report from US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who was in Tucson for a groundbreaking ceremony earlier this week.
“Downtown’s starting to come back to life,” said Michael McKisson, founder of local blog Tucson Velo. “A lot of businesses have moved down there to be by the streetcar track.”
McKisson said the project has its detractors — mainly those who think the project is too expensive or serves too limited a geographic area. But he added future plans call for another five-mile extension, further out toward the suburbs.
“Most people, they probably understand overall that it will be a net gain,” he said. “Some people just overall don’t like change.”
More than 100,000 people live within walking distance of the loop, according to LaHood.
This is likely to be the first of many streetcar groundbreakings in the coming years. The Community Streetcar Coalition, a group that advocates for streetcars, lists 20 cities that are planning systems.