Arizona legislators will soon have to choose between two very different plans to spend funding from the highway sales tax originally passed in 1985. One plan, SB1246 by Senator Farnsworth, would keep faith with the promises made to voters that the sales tax would fund highways to relieve traffic congestion around Phoenix.
The alternative proposal, SB1102 by Senator Carroll, would siphon off money from road projects and instead fund “green energy” giveaways proposed by the bureaucrats at the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG). SB1102 proposes to divert $2 billion from highway construction to fund bike lanes, walking trails, bus lanes, and other unspecified “special projects.” In other words, it establishes a slush fund comparable to the “Green New Deal” of the Biden Administration.
The Farnsworth bill, on the other hand, will fully fund the freeway expansions promised to the voters, and there will be no green slush fund. Also, none of the transportation money could be used to remove traffic lanes to make room for bike paths.
It also requires government-subsidized transit to operate efficiently and recover 25% of the cost from the riders, as they promised. In reality, the government-run system falls woefully short of that requirement, collecting a mere 7% currently. Senator Farnsworth’s bill will make public transit meet their revenue projections. If they fail to do so, private companies could bid to provide transit services and guarantee the revenue as promised to the voters.
The Left’s fixation with public transit has resulted in hundreds of millions pouring into the black hole of failing transit systems. Yet, despite the clear evidence that transit systems run by the government are a white elephant, they keep pumping more tax dollars into them. They cannot point to any city where the ridership has met their projections. The reason is simple. When pollsters ask the public, they say they want more public transit. However, when asked if they intend to use it, they say they have no intention of using it. They want other drivers to use transit to get those cars off the freeways.
SB1102 would help MAG pursue their far-Left agenda, which now includes imposing California-like restrictions on Arizonans, including banning the internal combustion engine and gas appliances. We must end such power grabs by the bureaucracy, and the Arizona Legislature can start by killing this bill and passing Senator Farnsworth’s SB1246.
The late, great conservative Senator Everett Dirksen famously explained the thinking of legislators when he said, “When I feel the heat, I see the light.” Taxpayers can hold legislators’ feet to the fire by telling them to vote NO on SB1102 and AYE for SB1246.
Pat Nolan is the Director Emeritus of the Nolan Center for Justice at the American Conservative Union and lives in Prescott.
Included in Arizona’s new $12.8 billion budget are several capital outlay appropriations of more than $163 million for 22 specified highway construction projects, ranging from $46 million to repave State Route 95 in Mohave County and money to $560,000 for improvement to Jerome’s historic Main Street.
Other big ticket projects funded by Senate Bill 1820 for Fiscal Year 2022 are $25 million to construct an overpass at State Route 347 and Riggs Road, $13.6 million to “rehabilitate” pavement along State Route 77 in Oro Valley, $10.6 million to improve State Route 90 near Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, and $10 million to improve State Route 95 near the U.S. Army’s Proving Ground in Yuma.
The ADOT appropriations in SB1820 also include $150,000 to study options for expanding the on and off ramps at the intersection of State Route 303 and Grand Avenue in Sun City and $140,000 to study guardrail needs on State Route 377 from Heber to Holbrook.
Being appropriated does not mean a project will be undertaken anytime soon, as land rights may need to be obtained, environmental studies may be needed, and planning phases must be completed.
But while many of the 22 projects specifically funded by SB1820 may not break ground for months, a host of other ADOT construction projects were greenlighted earlier this month when the Arizona Transportation Board announced its Five-Year Program for 2022 to 2026.
Among those projects is the replacement of the Gila River Bridge with a wider set of bridges on Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Casa Grande. The project carries a $83 million price tag with construction set to begin in 2023.
Another Five-Year Program project, at a cost of $328 million, will add traffic lanes on Interstate 17 between Anthem Way and Sunset Point. That project is slated to begin next year, as is a $41 million widening project on U.S. Highway 93 between Tegner Street and Wickenburg Ranch Way. And the first phase of a $70 million construction project for an Interstate 40 / U.S. Highway 93 interchange in western Kingman will start in 2024.
The projects to widen the key Arizona corridors of I-17 and I-10 will be partially funded by the Maricopa Association of Governments.
“The improvements to these Key Commerce Corridors represent two of the most critical transportation priorities in Arizona,” ADOT Director John Halikowski said in response to the Five-Year program. “The additional lanes are important to improve safety and efficiency while the state continues to attract jobs, businesses and economic growth. At the same time, ADOT is investing most rural highway funding to preserve existing roads and bridges to keep them in good condition for the movement of people and freight.”
More than $1 billion collected through gasoline and diesel fuel taxes will be allocated statewide for pavement preservation projects to upgrade 581 lane miles of poor, fair, and good condition roadways. And when Gov. Doug Ducey signed SB1820 he also authorized $90 million for pavement rehabilitation projects outside of Maricopa and Pima counties for roadways graded poor or fair, along with $50 million from the state’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget surplus to ADOT toward the cost of widening I-10 between Phoenix and Casa Grande.
The appropriation reverts back to the General Fund on Jun 30, 2022 if ADOT is unable to secure the right of way agreements needed to move the project forward.
Several Arizona highway projects are also being funded by more than $150 million of COVID-19 relief money allocated to the state earlier this year.