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Transportation is key to economic development—and a good economy is key to the well-being of families and communities. So why do we let funding for our streets and highways decline every year?

"We Can't Sit Idle"
Transportation Summit Exposes Lack of Funding for Aging Infrastructure

Transportation

Nothing moves without transportation. Without it, we couldn’t buy clothes or groceries. We couldn’t run a business. We couldn’t access medical or emergency services. We couldn’t get to work at the beginning of the day, or home to loved ones at the end of it. Transportation is key to economic development—and a good economy is key to the well-being of families and communities. So why do we let funding for our streets and highways decline every year?

That was a key question at the Sun Corridor Transportation Summit hosted by the Joint Planning Advisory Council in December. Participants included state and local elected officials, regional planning agencies, and business leaders, who shared their stories on why transportation is critical.

Sun Corridor Transportation Summit

“We contribute $2.1 billion in growth to the economy every year. We are the largest private employer in Southern Arizona, with 13,000 employees,” said Tim Beer, director of logistics and property for Raytheon Missile Systems. “Good roadways and ease of access are very important to our employee morale and for attracting new employers.” Beer noted the Tucson employer ships in thousands of items every day, completes them, and ships them out again. 

Yavapai County Supervisor Jack Smith ran the logistics team for Ace Hardware’s distribution center in Prescott Valley for many years. He discussed how 7-hour backups on I-17 lead to lost business. 

“Think about how those backups impact retailers. Truck drivers can only drive so many hours. Once drivers reach their limit, they have to park their rigs. By the time the products get to the retail store, they may be hours behind schedule. There may not be staff to unload it, or they may be stuck behind other loads,” said Smith. “When the person waiting at the other end doesn’t get their hammers, they will go elsewhere.” 

In fact, the cost of delay for the trucking industry nationally is about $75 billion in lost revenue every year. 

Much of the nation’s transportation infrastructure is 80 to 100 years old, said Edward Mortimer, vice president of transportation and infrastructure with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He told the diverse mix of legislative leaders and mayors that transportation is important—for both sides of the aisle.

“Infrastructure is bipartisan. It should bring every American together. Infrastructure to the business community is the backbone of the economy. If you can’t move people and goods to market, you won’t succeed,” said Mortimer. 

Mortimer noted America’s infrastructure is currently at a grade of “D+.”  It would take $3.7 trillion by 2025 to raise it to a “B.” In Arizona, Mortimer said that 36 percent of highways are in poor or inadequate condition. 

The funding outlook in Arizona is perhaps even bleaker, reported Eric Anderson, executive director of the Maricopa Association of Governments. Revenues continue to fall due to increasing fuel economy, and dollars don’t go as far due to rising construction prices and workforce shortages. At the same time, population, congestion and maintenance backlogs increase. Anderson noted that the gas tax has been at 18 cents a gallon since 1991.

Gasoline Taxes in United States

“Imagine starting your business three decades ago and never changing your prices, even though it costs twice as much to stock your shelves,” said Anderson. The gas tax paid by the driver of 2018 Honda Civic, the best-selling car today, effectively pays 70 percent less than the driver of a 1991 Ford Taurus, the best-selling car then.

Gas Tax Revenue and Fuel Economy Graphic

Anderson noted there are funding shortages for a number of large-scale projects, including:

  • I-17 expansion from Anthem to Sunset Point.
  • I-10 expansion from Phoenix to Casa Grande.
  • I-10 improvements west of SR-85 to California.
  • I-40 repairs across northern Arizona.
  • Major new highways, including the North-South Freeway and State Route 24 in Pinal County and Interstate 11.

Cost of Delay on Interstate 17I-17 between Phoenix and Flagstaff on average:

  • 400 accidents per year from Anthem to Sunset Point
  • 7 fatal accidents per year
  • 26 road closures
  • 3 hours of closure per accident

While raising the gas tax and/or indexing it to inflation is one possible solution, Anderson provided a table of 15 other potential revenue sources. He said he hoped elected leaders took to heart the theme of the summit: “We can’t sit idle.” He asked lawmakers to consider their own ideas for funding transportation. Anderson’s detailed presentation can be found on the Joint Planning Advisory Council website.

 

Published January 28, 2019

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The Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) is a Council of Governments (COG) that serves as the regional planning agency for the metropolitan Phoenix area.

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