Colossal Drama Continues For Pima County Supervisors

Supervisors declare emergency for the sake of Pima County kids going to schools along Colossal Cave Road

In 2014, four long time members of the Pima County Board of Supervisors taught newcomer Supervisor Ally Miller a tough lesson – play ball or we will take the ball away. In retaliation for her request that the County review the budget and find money to fix roads, her fellow Board members: Ray Carroll, Sharon Bronson, Ramon Valadez, and Richard Elias voted to eliminate planned road projects in her district.

Before a 4 – 1 vote in favor of the retaliatory move, in what was clearly a carefully orchestrated plan, the Board heard from multiple people in Supervisor Ray Carroll’s district demanding Colossal Cave Road repair. Supervisor Richard Elias then moved to have money reallocated from Miller’s district to fix the road, which is in Carroll’s district.

That road – for the most part – continues to decay to this day.

At the time, Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said about $5 million would be used to widen Colossal Cave Road from two to three lanes, possibly add turn lanes at Old Vail Middle School and Acacia Elementary School, and make other improvements. Construction could begin in about six to eight months, Huckelberry said. Read memo here

According to attendees of the 2014 meeting, a group came into the meeting late; just in time for a vote on the matter. They had been called by a County operative to attend the meeting and urge the Board to fund the Colossal Cave Road. The meeting had run unusually long, and their appearance right before the vote gave the appearance that they effort had been carefully coordinated. One of the men in the group told another attendee that he had never attended a Board meeting before, but had been called by Ray Carroll’s office and asked to come at the appointed time and ask for road money.

Carroll and County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry appeared to be quite pleased that they had successfully stripped an entire district of road repairs for the 2014 cycle despite the fact that the repairs had already been approved by Huckelberry. Carroll and Supervisor Sharon Bronson laughed after the vote. Ray Carroll appeared to mouth the words to the attendees leaving the meeting, “Thanks for coming.”

At the time, George Yost of the Greater Vail Civic League told the Tucson Weekly, “It’s a dangerous situation. We have schoolkids walking along the dirt shoulders and we’ve seen people drive on those dirt shoulders to get around traffic during rush hour, which is when the school starts.”

Steve Barker, of the Greater Vail Civic League, wrote in an email sent the Sunday before the February meeting: “There are no sidewalks or bicycle lanes to allow safe passage to pedestrians or growing number of cyclists. In addition to the safety issues the road provides access to literally 100% of the business is located in Vail. The project repair and upgrade this road has been on the books since 2000 with no progress.”

The Greater Vail Civic League was formed in October 2014 and was dissolved in June 2015.

A letter from the Vail Community Action Board, dated September 2013 was delivered in a memo from Carroll dated February 11, 2014 requesting “a reconsideration to modify the Pavement Preservation FY 2013-14 project list for the purpose of allocating funds for Colossal Cave Road.”

Carroll wrote, “The improvements on Colossal Cave Road are critical to ensure the safety of Vail residents, especially in the vicinity of the two schools. The two-lane, high traffic road is currently rated “Poor/Fail” by the Pima County Department of Transportation and has been subject to accidents and near accidents, as can be seen by a four-car pile-up on the morning of September 19, 2013 (Attachment 2). Fortunately, though one individual was taken to the hospital, there were no casualties. I urge you to consider moving some of the pavement preservation funds to address this emergency before a serious or fatal accident occurs. Students’ safety is at stake.

Vail Community Action Board dissolved in 2014. When it dissolved, it allocated its funds according to The Vail Voice:

“After several meetings, the four agreed there was no desire by any, some or all of the four to attempt to revitalize the organization and that the corporation should be dissolved with the remaining funds divided according to the VCAB By-Laws between selected non-profit corporations serving the greater Vail area. Each benefiting organization was required to show proof of its non-profit status and had someone directly connected in service as a member to the VCAB.

This November, six local non-profit organization each received checks for $2,978.31 closing out the corporation. Benefactors were the Andrada High School Scholarship Fund, Impact of Southern Arizona’s Vail Backpack Program, Vail Education Foundation, Vail Preservation Society, the Vail School District’s Vail Pride Day, and the YMCA Building Fund for the new Rita Road YMCA.

The Tucson Weekly reported that Huckelberry “said the improvements along Colossal Cave Road are expensive because it is a distressed two-lane road with two railroad crossings that create big expenses for the county and it covers hilly terrain that needs to be altered to make it easier to see oncoming traffic. Huckelberry estimates that improving the road will cost roughly $5 million, and the county already has about $3 million available for the project. With the money originally set aside for District 1 and $100,000 from the Vail School District, the county is still short about $1 million.”

The Board of Supervisors also approved the contract that was previously awarded for the planning and design of the Colossal Cave Road project in 2003, to Parsons Brinckerhoff, Inc. The amount allocated for the project is not to exceed $500,000. As of April 13, 2016 Capital Improvement Program Planning Report shows that the County spent $512,409 on design, $1,523 on construction, $139,996 for “Right of Way,” and $18,809 for utilities. Most of the money; $872,000 came from the District 1 sweep, $320,817 came from the RTA, $20,800 came from “Impact Fee (Rincon Valley),” $76,519 came from “Impact Fee (Southeast),” and the money promised by Vail School District Superintendent Cal Baker at the February 2014 meeting, does not appear in the report.

On March 21, 2014, Carroll wrote in The Vail Voice: “The County is moving forward by implementing priority to this project, looking at other funding options and working with Union Pacific Railroad to evaluate the most cost effective widening alternative. Deputy County Administrator John Bernal will oversee the direct implementation of this project.”

Inquiries from the Arizona Daily Independent to Pima County Communications Director, Mark Evans, regarding the Colossal Cave were ignored. Only Supervisor Ally Miller’s office responded to inquiries; providing the records requested from Evans. Remarkably after contacting Evans, the Colossal Road project appeared on the April 19, 2016 agenda.

Knowing that the obvious retribution would raise questions, Supervisor Elias tried to get out ahead of complaints during the February2014 meeting. He said that this is “Not Chris Christygate.” He claimed it was simply an economic decision. Bridgegate, which Elias referred to as Chris Christygate resulted in indictments in which some members of New Jersey Governor Chis Christy’s staff were charged with conspiring to commit fraud by illegally exploiting Port Authority resources for political ends.

About David Ahumada 164 Articles
David studied journalism at Northern Arizona University. After graduation he began writing for the Arizona Daily Independent.