Transportation improvements are priorities in and around Maricopa County in Arizona. Loop 202 (South Mountain Freeway) newly opened in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Ames Construction)

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

Unless you live in a bubble, you know that federal infrastructure investment is trending. In D.C., that means that bipartisan members of Congress and Bidenites are working stridently to define the investment parameters of a bill many hope will be a turning point. Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema has been pegged as central to striking a deal.

That’s because what happens in D.C. does not stay in D.C.

Because of pervasive uncertainty about future federal funding for infrastructure, regional organizations have been tasked with planning and funding transportation projects for the longterm in what has amounted to some policy limbo.

One such entity, the Phoenix-based Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG), identified $80 to $90 billion in needs, against $36 billion in estimated revenue, looking out to 2050 in its next “Momentum” Regional Transportation Plan. Revenue considered includes the region’s half-cent sales tax for transportation, MAG Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) monies, federal funding allocated to the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), and the state’s Highway User Revenue Fund (HURF).

The regional half-cent sales tax easily amounts to more than half of the available funding, with federal and state investments lagging. Because of funding shortfalls, ADOT is primarily focused on keeping infrastructure in a state of good repair rather than system expansion throughout most of the state, according to John Bullen, MAG Transportation Economic and Finance Program Manager.

Transportation systems are not fixed or stagnant. They evolve. A “massive influx of growth” against a “pinch” of state and federal funding is how Bullen characterizes what is happening.

MAG Brings the Max

Advocating for among the fastest-growing municipalities in the United States, the MAG Regional Council represents 27 cities and towns across the Valley, Maricopa County, sections of Pinal County and three Native nations. But with massive transportation challenges, it doesn’t only say “we need to construct this” or “build more capacity” or “fix something.” It knows that benefit cost and economic analyses are critical to generating public support.

The whys are explained by project factsheets. The $683 million I-10 Broadway Curve Improvement Project, an 11-mile stretch between Loop 202 and Interstate 17 not far from the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, will result in rush-hour traffic moving 25 percent faster, 250 new long-term jobs, local business sales growing by $1.2 billion because of construction activities, 1,400 new construction jobs, improving access to 4,637 businesses, and saving motorists 2.5 million hours annually.

When it comes to transportation investment, MAG has a record of doing its part. In 1985, a majority of voters approved a 20-year half-cent sales tax through Proposition 300 to fund new freeways. In 2004, a majority of voters approved a 20-year half-cent sales tax extension through Proposition 400 for new freeways, arterial roads and transit improvements. Soon, MAG is expected to ask voters in Maricopa County to extend Proposition 400, which expires in 2025.

Bullen says that over a 25-year period, that would collect $19.5 billion. This can be leveraged for federal and state funding as well.

Americans who use the nation’s roads, bridges and public transportation expect them to work, but the question of whether the public and lawmakers understand what just one project entails must be contemplated. Part of improving interstates 17 and 10 — which run down the spine of Arizona’s system — involves a singular MAG portion of I-17 that will be more than a $2 billion reconstruction effort.

“That project has been needed for decades. We’ve identified funding. It is essential for the economic vitality of our region and I think that illustrates that we need new corridors, we need to expand our network, but at the same time we’re faced with needing to rehabilitate some of our aging infrastructure,” explains Bullen. “Once you start looking at all these different investments, it really starts to add up fast. We have a lot of local funding that flows into the system. We are dependent on continued and increased state investment as well as federal investment.”

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