Transportation an important issue in 2019 legislative session

A strong transportation system is important to the success of any competitive market.

As Arizona’s population increases, the need to repair and maintain the transportation system throughout the state is a key issue in the 2019 legislative session.

“If you think about it everything rides on the transportation system,” Kevin Biesty, deputy director for policy, ADOT, said at a recent Greater Phoenix Chamber event. “We have critical infrastructure that needs to be expanded [but] most of our budget, right now, goes to maintaining.”

According to state Rep. Noel Campbell (LD1), state lawmakers know which projects they need to complete but they do not have the revenue to complete them.

Funding is the biggest transportation issue this year but an issue every year according to Tony Bradley, president and CEO of the Arizona Trucking Association.  

Campbell, who is chair of the Arizona House Transportation Committee, said part of the revenue problem is that the state’s fuel taxes have not been adjusted since the early 1990s.

“1991 was the last time we raised fuel taxes – gasoline and diesel taxes – in this state,” Campbell said. “A dollar of tax revenue then is worth 47 cents today. So, every year we’re losing a real income because the revenue [has] decreased due to inflation.”

The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), which focuses on transportation projects across the state, is not a ‘general fund’ agency, meaning it does not compete against other agencies for funding that comes from traditional tax revenues.

“We don’t compete for funding with education or corrections or any of the other state functions,” Biesty said. “All the funding for transportation comes from, primarily, when you put gas in your tank, when you register a vehicle, when you buy permits, anything you buy for your vehicle.”

These funds – which include taxes from motor fuels and a collected variety of fees related to registration and operation of motor vehicles – go into the Arizona Highway User Revenue Fund (HURF) and then are distributed among cities, towns, and counties.

However, according to Campbell, when the Great Recession hit, the state took money from the HURF and now there is only enough money in the ADOT budget to maintain 47 percent of state roads.

But another problem is the increase in electric cars, that do not pay fuel taxes, and more fuel-efficient cars, that fill their tanks up less often.

“The 1991 Ford Taurus, the best selling car in 1991, averaged 19 miles per gallon.  The Honda Civic, the best seller today, gets 35 miles per gallon,” Eric Anderson, Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) executive director said. “The dollars [needed for] continued highway and street maintenance is 70 percent less due to the impact of higher fuel economy between the two vehicles and inflation since 1991.”

According to Anderson, MAG is working with the legislature to increase revenue because a strong transportation system is required to remain competitive.

“I would like to see some measures passed that would improve the revenue outlook for transportation but we want to, at a minimum, raise the awareness of the issue,” Anderson said. “Without action, many needed projects around the state cannot be done.”

According to Bradley, it costs more to fix roads than to maintain them.

“Trying to purchase 2019 material on the same amount of money that you budgeted for 1990 would be virtually impossible for anybody to do, yet we expect ADOT to do it every day,” Bradley said. “Right now, ADOT only has enough money for the maintenance of our roads and they’re making critical decisions in some areas [like] ‘can we wait another year?’ Well, waiting that another year may cost them more to fix it later on.”

Projects that are important for the growth of Arizona include the Interstate 17 lane expansion between Anthem and Black Canyon City; a lane expansion on Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Casa Grande, as well as between Phoenix and California; a new north-south freeway in Pinal County for growth accommodation; maintenance on Interstate 69 between the I-17 and Prescott; as well as basic street maintenance for Arizona counties, cities and towns – especially in rural Arizona.

Emily Richardson

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