In November, 2006, with great fanfare, Pima County Administrator Charles Huckelberry announced that the county and Walmart, with developer Donohue-Schreiber Realty, had reached a $35 million deal for a new supercenter at Ajo Way and Kinney Road. The Walmart money was to go to transportation needs, environmental mitigation, and improvements in Tucson Mountain Park.
Huckelberry told reporters the road improvements were critical both to the county and Walmart. “We had fairly little leverage other than saying we’re not going to let you do a huge retail project without adequate transportation,” he said. “They want to be successful, and it’s going to be hard to be successful without improving the roads.”
The deal was called a “model” meeting the needs of residents, the store, and the environment. Walmart was to pay $20 million upfront, with an additional $15 million to be paid to the county through 2 percent of the Wal-Mart store’s sales for up to 25 years.
On June 8, 2018, Huckelberry told the Board of Supervisors in a memo that the deal had fallen through and was being terminated by Walmart and the developer. He blamed the “faltering economy” after the agreement was signed and noted that the financial obligations “were never triggered.” In other words, the $20 million was never paid to the county and county efforts, planning and enabling legislation costs were down the drain.
But: For several years the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) has been working on those same traffic improvements, widening Route 86, Ajo Way, from Valencia to Kinney Road, in anticipation of meeting the needs of a superstore-anchored shopping area. ADOT said, “The purpose of the project is to enhance safety and improve traffic flow along this segment of SR 86 in Tucson and meet current and future traffic needs.” Construction began in February, 2016, and is expected to be completed soon.
Drivers familiar with the area told us that, before construction started, delays and congestion were rare. It is clear that the road widening was to meet expected traffic increases due to a new shopping area being established.
While the cost of the project was not available on the ADOT website, earlier news stories estimated the price to be $41 million taxpayer dollars. ADOT did not respond to an email query about costs in time for this story to be filed. An additional $80,000 was spent by the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) to study the need for wildlife linkages in the project area. Those added up to $7 million in proposed bridge and underground crossing projects.
So: About $50 million dollars spent for a deal that never happened, for jobs that never materialized, for a crony’s broken promise. How many potholes could have been filled with that money? And while we’re on the subject of taxpayer money down the drain, whatever happened to the promised “expert report” about the World View Spaceport explosion and damage six months ago?