By Terri Jo Neff |
The day before five people died Thursday in a horrific vehicle fire on Interstate 10 near Riggs Road, Arizona officials learned that the U.S. Department of Transportation denied a request for $360 million to widen another dangerous stretch of the interstate through Pinal County.
Last year the Arizona Legislature approved $400 million for the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) as part of a project to widen 26 miles of the interstate to three lanes in each direction from Casa Grande and Chandler.
The three-year project, which will include a new bridge over the Gila River, was funded enough with the allocation and other state money to complete about 20 miles.
Meanwhile, ADOT applied for $360 million through the National Infrastructure Project Assistance grant program. Those funds would have ensured the widening work and other safety improvements extended farther south into Pinal County, an area which has experienced a high rate of residential and commercial growth in recent years.
Arizona Sen. T.J. Shope (R-Coolidge) and Rep. Teresa Martinez (R-Casa Grande) were disappointed to learn the grant application was denied. Both say they intend to introduce new legislation to use state funds to cover the $360 million so the full project can be completed.
The lawmakers are also encouraging ADOT to seek other funding options which could lower the amount of the second allocation.
One of the biggest advocates for the interstate improvement project is Casa Grande Mayor Craig McFarland, who believes construction must begin sooner than later.
“We can’t wait for us to get all the money and begin the process,” McFardland said, adding he is looking forward to feedback on why ADOT’s grant application was rejected.
Various guesses have been put forth by some parties for rejection of the application, which had the support of U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly. Some are pointing to the fact Arizona was seeking nearly one-third of all the funding available nationwide in the current award round.
Others suggest the Biden administration is prioritizing more “green” transportation projects. More information is expected to be released soon, including possible tips on what ADOT can do differently if it reapplies for the next funding cycle.
Kelly issued a statement affirming his support for the I-10 improvements.
“Arizonans rely on the I-10 to connect them to jobs, educational opportunities and their families, which is why improving and expanding this highway is still a top priority for me,” the statement reads.
Terri Jo Neff is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or send her news tips here.