City wants more oversight of streetcar project dollars

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TUCSON, Ariz. -- It's being touted as a project set to revolutionize Tucson.

The Modern Streetcar Project should be up and running by 2013.

To make it happen it'll take millions of dollars of taxpayer money.   That's why the pressure's on to make sure none of it goes to waste.

It's a multi-million dollar project that is supposed to be a critical part of downtown redevelopment, which has a familiar ring to some.

"I'm really concerned this will turn into another rendition of Rio Nuevo.  We just spend and spend and spend," said Councilman Steve Kozachik.

Tucson's city council knows the story line all too well.  Tuesday, they made it clear they want strong oversight of the program.

"It's our responsibility to do our best to make sure our city staff is watching the money carefully," said Mayor Jonathan Rothschild.

The project will cost $197 million.  Thirty-six million has been spent, but over 84 million has been obligated.

But the city's murky Rio Nuevo history is well known to its streetcar partner, the RTA, too.

Executive Director Gary Hayes says for both bodies, failure is not an option.

"Critical, critical for both groups, for our community as a whole," Hayes said.

At Thursday's RTA board meeting both the city and the board tussled over experience handling a project of this size.

But at the end of the day, both know they need each other to make it work.

"We have to work together and sometimes that just creates friction with regional and city, but street car is critical to both," said Hayes.

Friction or not, when you ask the city or the RTA about the project, both parties say its right on target.

"So far we're doing great.  We're going to break ground soon.   This thing is moving right along. It's going to open in 2013," said Rothschild.

The problem is, at one point it was supposed to open in November of 2011.  By all measures, it's behind schedule.

"I'm really fatigued wit the happy chatter about this project," said Kozachik.

The bottom line is Kozachik wants less chatter and more tangible results.

The city opened bids for the Modern Streetcar Project last week. The apparent low bidder was Old Pueblo track works.

It's bid came in almost $6 million less than the engineer's estimate.