Spending part of a one-time windfall to build new roads and bridges was a rare idea in Gov. Doug Ducey’s January 13 State of the State Address that won plaudits from both liberal and conservative lawmakers.
Ducey pledged funding for a six-lane bridge over the Gila River on Interstate 10. A day later, the Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee endorsed nearly a dozen bills to provide funding for bridges. And both legislative Republicans and Democrats discussed spending more for roads and bridges while laying out their priorities for the fiscal 2021 budget.
Lawmakers expect to have about $170 million available for ongoing funding and about $475 million for one-time spending, thanks in part to higher-than-expected revenue from sales taxes paid by out-of-state online retailers because of law changes this year.
“All of the members, Republicans and Democrats, on both sides of the aisle are in favor of infrastructure investments,” Senate President Karen Fann said.
Ducey said his budget proposal, which was due for release on January 17, will include funding for a six-lane bridge over the Gila River, as part of an ongoing push to widen I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson. The highway shrinks to two lanes in either direction for about 23 miles between Chandler and Casa Grande.
“Our budget puts the pedal to the metal, with the construction of a new six-lane bridge over the Gila River,” Ducey said during his speech. “This replaces a 56-year-old bridge. Sixty-two thousand people drive over it every day. That’s 23 million a year. So let’s break ground ASAP.”
Ducey also requested federal funding to build a bridge over Tonto Creek, where three children died in late November after their family drove past signs warning them not to cross. Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, and Rep. David Cook, R-Globe, previously introduced bills requesting state funding for the bridge.
Allen’s bill, which would appropriate $15 million, is scheduled for a hearing January 21 in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Cook’s, which would appropriate $20 million, is not yet scheduled.
The Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee, meanwhile, has already endorsed spending about $46 million to replace or repair 10 other rural bridges, and an additional $11 million to study widening State Route 101 between I-10 and U.S. 60 in the West Valley and improving the interchange of the North Loop 101 and I-10.
Committee chairman David Livingston, R-Peoria, said he was deluged with phone calls from other cities and counties after the Legislature approved a $2.81 million appropriation to repair or replace Jesse Hayes Road bridge over Pinal Creek in Globe last year.
Because of those pleas, Livingston asked the state Transportation Department to send him a list of its most critical bridges in rural counties that don’t have funding. The sum comes to about $46 million.
House and Senate Democrats, in their own presentation prior to the State of the State Address, called for spending on county roads and bridges and airports, and replacing highway funds that have regularly been swept to other needs.
Overall, Fann said lawmakers should approach this year thinking of budgeting for infrastructure in the same way they think of budgeting for their own homes. In a good year, with money left over, they can get ahead on fixing a roof or doing other maintenance.
“I hate it when people say we have extra money; we have a surplus. We have a great, great economy right now,” she said.