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When Pima County, Ariz.’s The Loop project is completed, it will not only become a 55-mile car-free oasis for bikers and outdoor enthusiasts, it also will address vital flood control issues that have plagued the community for decades. The project was initially envisioned following a devastating flood in 1983, which destroyed millions of dollars worth of property and claimed four lives. Reconstruc­tion and repair work to mitigate flood damage totaled more than $200 million – in 1984.

Following the flood, Pima County began a major effort to repair and protect the area from similar occurrences in the future through the construction of the flood control project now known as The Loop. Throughout the years, the project has taken on different forms, evolving into a project that provides vast green space and recreational opportunities for the community. At least 38 percent of area residents live within a mile of the Loop.

The Loop is about 75 percent complete, and should reach about 90 percent by 2013. The loop connects parks, 130 miles of trails, bus and bike routes, workplaces, schools, restaurants, shopping areas and entertainment venues.

“The Loop was a perfect example of how taxpayer money could be used to protect us from potential flood damage while providing a great recreational amenity for our citizens,” County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry says. “The bike and pedestrian paths that line the river banks were so popular that cyclists, walkers and birdwatchers started using them long before the last pieces were paved. The Loop has quickly become one of the most popular attractions in the Tucson urban area.”

In recent years, the project has been split into smaller pieces to expedite the process overall, explains Nanette Slusser, assistant county administrator. And with material prices lower than they have been in years, the project has progressed quickly.

“There has been a huge push in the last few years to complete the project, and we’ve been able to get twice as much done as a result of these great prices we’re seeing,” Slusser says. “It’s an interesting project because we have three or four segments being built at the same time, and our project management representatives and our county administrator have a very personal commitment to finishing this project.”

Numerous contractors have been involved in the project, coordinating logistics with the county on a regular basis. Many contractors complete their work using the design/build method to speed up the process as much as possible.

With multiple projects proceeding simultaneously, clear lines of communication are imperative. The county’s project management representatives meet with contractors weekly to coordinate the jobs. “It’s a challenge to have so much going on at the same time, but it’s not impossible,” Slusser says, “We’ve been able to get a lot of work done much faster and cheaper than we would otherwise be able to do.”

Public Support

The Loop has been partly financed with regional flood control district tax levy proceeds, along with voter-authorized bonds. The first bond was authorized in 1984, and each successive bond has prompted further development and expansion of the park system.

“We didn’t realize just how popular The Loop would be,” Slusser says. “But it’s become one of the most popular amenities in our community, and the best way people show that they use it is that they continue voting for bonds. That says it all to me.”

The project also has had a significant impact on the community, creating more than 600 jobs. In addition, a recent study showed a nine-to-one return on investment in tourism dollars alone. “We didn’t realize early on what an economic driver The Loop would be,” Slusser adds.

The network of trails and green space also represents opportunities to get out and live a healthy lifestyle – and the community is already taking advantage.

“We have joggers running on a natural path, people walking with strollers, and we even have people riding horses,” she says. “People are starting to realize that they can get all over by using pathways in the Loop.”

Overcoming Obstacles

The Loop wasn’t always seen as a project that would spur economic development and provide the open space, pathways and parks that it offers today. In fact, some residents worried the vast open space may attract increased criminal activity and homeless people to the area. The results so far couldn’t be further from the truth.

“The project touches some of the poorest and some of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the county, and people were worried at first,” Slusser says. “But, now we have new developments actively seeking to be on the Loop and provide access from these developments directly to the Loop.”

As the project progresses, the space will continue to provide much-needed green space and park systems. “These river parks are a rare source of green space,” Slusser says. “This space promotes an active lifestyle and we hope it continues to keep our community healthy.”

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