Loop 101 (Pima Freeway) is a widening project under construction from Interstate 17 in Phoenix east to Pima Road in Phoenix and Scottsdale, Ariz. (Photo courtesy of Coffman Ames Joint Venture)

Spotlight on Fast-Growing Arizona: Federal Funding is Critical to Maricopa Region’s Transportation Network

As Public Support Builds, D.C. Must Get Infrastructure Done

Funding transportation in America relies on partnerships. Period.

Interstate commerce flows, people have a good quality of life, structures are safe, tourism and businesses are supported, jobs are created, and modern infrastructure is built by local, state and federal dollars that accelerate multimodal mobility and enable connectivity. I-17 may be a statewide transportation nexus, but it really was and is a connection to the future.

“We are a young region. We’ve grown a lot, and we continue to grow a lot. … An extraordinarily critical element for us is that there has been recognition among state and federal policymakers that transportation investments are good and that additional transportation funding is needed,” adds Bullen. “However, for those of us who have boots on the ground, it’s also the stability and the longevity that are needed. These projects take a very long time to develop. Continuing resolutions (CRs) are killer. Multi-year transportation bills are absolutely necessary.”

Another key highway for Arizona was I-10, but it’s also a policy juggernaut. Proof of this are the relationships, processes, time and environmental assessments going into studying how to increase the capacity of a 26-mile section of I-10. MAG, FHWA, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Gila River Indian Community are all prominent voices. This length between Maricopa County and Tucson — that runs between Phoenix and Casa Grande — is only two lanes in each direction and there are accidents on, and issues with, this heavily congested corridor.

“We’ve been working in partnership with ADOT to try to widen that to three lanes in each direction, but we’re short an estimated $450 million. And so that’s a project that will be ready to move forward but we’ll need the construction funding,” explains Bullen.

The last time the state raised the gas tax was in 1991. A dollar then is estimated to equal around 47 cents now. MAG did an analysis looking back at gas tax collections. “And if you hold constant for inflation, we actually collected less in 2019 than we did in the year 2000. And the state’s population has grown more than 40 percent over the same period,” notes Bullen.

States receive federal transportation dollars through formulaic disbursements from the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) and discretionary grants, something with which Bullen says Arizona has done reasonably well. HTF revenues are from a federal fuel excise tax that has not been increased since 1993 and, in more recent years, the general fund has filled the revenue gap. But increasing taxes became a non-starter as pay-fors in developing today’s federal reauthorization bill.

Making A Case for Transportation Investment

Local and state officials across America, however, have advocated and secured increasing varying taxes tagged for transportation improvements, knowing that transportation and economic development are linked. MAG says that:

  • High-capacity transportation investments are associated with saved time and over a 30-year period would amount to a $100-plus billion in freeway travel time savings.
  • Improved transportation systems across Maricopa County have unlocked new market potential and enhanced property values, with an average increase of 150 percent between 2000 and 2019.
  • A flourishing economy is tied to efficient freight movement and Maricopa County and the region’s annual export goods are valued at $13.2 billion.

A half of a century ago, the county’s transportation network was little more than I-17, portions of U.S. 60, and local roads. Today, Maricopa County has more than 450 miles of freeway and 28 miles of light rail. As Maricopa County continues to be one of the fastest growing counties in the United States, adding more than 81,000 people between 2017 and 2018, the expansion of freeway, light rail and a well-connected arterial grid system have been prioritized, according to MAG.

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