U.S. DOT Hails Streetcar Service in Tucson

The Sun Link is a good example of modern streetcar services that are bringing a new transportation option to communities across the country – or in some cases, bringing back an old one.

by Therese McMillan, U.S. Department of Transportation / July 31, 2014

Yesterday, Secretary Anthony Foxx wrote about the Washington Metro's new Silver Line that, "connecting thousands of residents and visitors with major employment, education and economic opportunities," is a significant investment in the community's future. And last week, the Federal Transit Administration helped celebrate the launch of another significant investment, Tucson, Ariz.’s new Sun Link streetcar service.

It couldn’t have come at a better time. A recent report from Arizona Public Interest Research Group showed that Tucson had a 25 percent per capita increase in transit ridership over a five-year period. According to the study, that’s due in large part to population growth in the Sunbelt and an increasing preference for public transit among both seniors and the millennial generation. All of those factors reflect what we’re seeing nationally: a decline in driving and the highest transit ridership in generations.

Sun Link is a good example of modern streetcar services that are bringing a new transportation option to communities across the country – or in some cases, bringing back an old one.

But these are not your grandfather’s streetcars. Energy-efficient, spacious, and climate-controlled, modern streetcars extend the walkability of a community and provide a complement to other forms of transit such as buses and rail. Like a bus, they make frequent stops so people can get on and off and take advantage of everything a neighborhood has to offer. Like rail, they travel a fixed path that can become the backbone on which new economic development can focus, and their routes are easy to understand.

In the case of Tucson, the streetcar will connect some of the most dynamic parts of the city along a densely populated four-mile corridor, including the University of Arizona campus; the concentration of businesses along Fourth Avenue, at Main Gate, and in downtown; and the new Mercado neighborhood. Altogether, nearly 100,000 people live and work within a quarter-mile of the Sun Link route. That’s helped attract more than $1.5 billion in public and private investment along the corridor since the service was announced, including housing, restaurants, offices and retail.

The streetcar renaissance isn’t just good news for Tucson, though. This streetcar investment in Arizona – funded in part by a grant from DOT's TIGER program – is also supporting good jobs for families in Portland, Ore., where these sleek modern streetcars are manufactured. That’s because Buy America requirements ensure that at least 60 percent of each vehicle bought with federal taxpayer dollars is American-made and that they’re assembled in the U.S. The Obama administration has had such great success in helping grantees meet that requirement that we've proposed increasing the requirement to a full 100 percent by 2019 as part of the GROW AMERICA proposal that Secretary Foxx sent to Congress last May.

This administration believes that when we invest taxpayer dollars in transit, we should make sure those dollars are invested in the domestic manufacturing jobs that we know can build new buses, rail cars and streetcars like Tucson's.

Transit brings opportunity, jobs and investment. That’s one reason GROW AMERICA would increase funding for public transit by 70 percent. Like the Washington Metro's Silver Line, Tucson's Sun Rail is one more example illustrating America’s need for long-term, predictable and sufficient funding for transportation that meets the needs of a growing nation and prepares us for the future.

This post originally appeared on Fast Lane, the official blog of the U.S. Department of Transportation.