Few things are as essential to economic growth and development as our nation’s roads. In a state as expansive as Arizona, riders understand the importance of having sound infrastructure, especially when it fails, as it did with the recent bridge collapse on I-10 in California not far from the Arizona border that continues to impact travelers across our state and region.
Throughout history, providing for our nation’s infrastructure has been a central priority for both political parties. And, since President Dwight Eisenhower created the Interstate Highway System in 1956, our roads and bridges have served as the backbone to our nation’s economy and national security.
However, the path that Congress has been on for the past several years in Washington, passing 35 short-term bills since 2009, has undermined the health of the roads and bridges Arizonans rely on every day. It is past time to break this trend and move our nation’s infrastructure forward with a responsible and thoughtful transportation policy.
Before breaking for the August recess, the Senate passed a long-overdue, multi-year surface transportation bill to authorize and fund our nation’s highway, bridge, and transit programs. I was proud to support this bill, known as the DRIVE Act.
This long-term bill provides the certainty that is necessary to allow for strategic planning, priority-setting, and long-term investment. As I have heard from state and local transportation authorities over and over again, they cannot plan with three-month extensions or short-term, stop-gap measures. The Senate understands this. Under this bill, long-term infrastructure projects could begin and limited transportation dollars can be spent more efficiently and deliberately.
The DRIVE Act also includes transportation priorities that are important for Arizona’s future. First, it clarifies that the future Interstate 11 in Arizona stretches not only from Phoenix north to Las Vegas and through the Northwest, but also south from the Valley to our southern border. Traversing the entire state, the future I-11 will be a vital artery fostering economic growth in Arizona and connecting Arizona’s businesses and communities to major domestic and international trade partners.
The bill passed by the Senate also designates a key 16-mile stretch of highway connecting I-10 and I-19 in south Tucson, known as the Sonoran Corridor, as a future Interstate highway. The Sonoran Corridor will enable the hundreds of thousands of freight vehicles traveling through the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales each year to avoid having to pass through the city to reach major trade routes using I-10. This development will significantly address the growing traffic problem in Tucson and connect southern Arizona to agricultural regions, infrastructure and manufacturing centers, and existing high-priority corridors of the National Highway System. The Sonoran Corridor will also be home to the new Aerospace Parkway next to Tucson International Airport, which has the potential to become one of the largest manufacturing and logistics hubs in the Southwest.
More fundamentally, the bill would provide over $82 million for Arizona’s roads and bridges in the first three years, as well as additional funds to support key freight networks in our state.
This bill is not perfect, but it represents a bipartisan effort to provide state and local governments the certainty and flexibility they need while also streamlining certain environmental reviews and improving safety measures. I will continue to push for policies that ensure vital projects are not needlessly slowed by bureaucracy, that states have greater authority to decide where to spend limited transportation dollars, and that Arizona receives a share of federal funding that accurately reflects our state’s growing population.
I am proud of the work that went into this important legislation. To avoid yet another short-term extension that will just kick the can down the road, I hope that the House will take up and pass this bill as soon as lawmakers return to Washington next month.
Arizona is moving forward, and it’s past time we have the roads and bridges to get us there.
-John McCain is the senior U.S. senator from Arizona