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ADOT director: Expect reduced services

The head of Arizona Department of Transportation warned that some services provided by his agency, such as highway maintenance, would be curtailed in reaction to state spending cuts that pulled millions from the transportation budget.
Lawmakers agreed on Jan. 31 to cut $173 million from ADOT’s fiscal 2009 budget. Those cuts included a transfer of $104 million to the general fund from the Statewide Transportation Acceleration Needs (STAN) account.
The agency has implemented a hiring freeze, stopped building improvements, reduced services and suspended programs.
There has been a drastic reduction in money coming from the gasoline tax and the vehicle license tax as people drive less and are buying fewer new cars, according to Victor Mendez, ADOT director.
The revenue reductions are unprecedented and are “severely impacting” the agency, Mendez said during a Feb. 2 hearing in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, Infrastructure and Public Debt.
“I would not say that we are impacting safety yet, but we certainly are impacting service levels,” Mendez said.
Senate committees have resumed scrutinizing agencies and programs as the Legislature hunkers down to craft the fiscal 2010 budget. Lawmakers worked through the night Jan. 30 to close a $1.6 billion deficit in this year’s budget. The budget package was signed by the governor about 2 a.m. the next morning.
In anticipation of mid-year budget revisions, ADOT has undertaken efforts to cut spending in the last several months, according to Mendez. 
“We will now have to cut back even further after this past weekend,” he said.
Mendez said motorist safety will be a priority when making decisions regarding the spending reductions.
Services that have been cut back include, for example, litter removal on highways. In the past, the agency would send a crew during weekends to remove litter on the freeway.  
“What we have done to date is that if you identify an issue, let us say a large object on the highway, if it happens to be on the shoulder, we will not be going out during the weekend to pick that up,” Mendez said. “If it is not a safety issue, we are going to leave it there and during the regular days, the crew will pick it up.
“In spite of all of the efforts that I just mentioned to keep expenses low, the revised budget will force us to cut even more aggressively,” he added.
Among the things being contemplated are closing some rest areas throughout the state and reducing further routine highway maintenance activities, such as sweeping and vegetation control, he said.
During this fiscal year, which began July 1, 2008, Mendez said his agency has transferred roughly $296 million to the state general fund and to the Department of Public Safety.

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