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Updated Jul 22, 2014 - 5:14 pm

Tucson streetcars to start running this week

(Tucson Modern Streetcar Facebook Photo)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- A new streetcar system will start running Friday in Tucson in a major milestone for the nearly $200 million public transportation project.

Construction began in 2012 on the nearly 4-mile Sun Link streetcar line- an 18-stop route that connects the University of Arizona with the downtown area. Each of the eight streetcars can carry about 150 people.

Politicians including U.S. Reps. Raul Grijalva and Ron Barber, D-Ariz., were in Tucson on Monday as part of a series of events celebrating the start of the line.

Grijalva said he saw potential in the streetcar back in 2003, when he helped open the door for federal funding that contributed to the project. Other funding for the streetcar came from private and public sources, including Pima County's sales tax.

``We got behind it early,'' he said in Tuesday's Arizona Daily Star. ``I knew what it could mean for the city.''

Grijalva found that there was little support in Congress for public transit projects like the streetcar. However, he thinks the Sun Link will serve as a good example of a beneficial public transit project.

``This will help change some attitudes about what a project like this can do for a community,'' he said.

Sun Link officials and backers of the project believe the line will boost the local economy, especially as new businesses sprout up along the route.

``We think it's going to bring a lot of new business,'' said Debbie Chandler, executive director of the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association. ``We did the hard part, now it's time to reap the glory.''

Grijalva touted the project's potential at a press conference where politicians and Sun Link's backers took a ride on the line.

``This streetcar is probably going to be the tool in that toolbox for redevelopment and revitalization for the city of Tucson,'' he said. ``That's how important it is.''

Motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians will need to learn to share the road with the new streetcars once the Sun Link starts running. Bicyclists may find that they have less room on some roads because of the streetcar's tracks and drivers will need to watch where they park so that they don't halt the route by getting in the line's way.

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