There has been a great deal of discussion lately about transportation road funding and how the Northwest side has fared in the distribution of these resources.
It might be helpful, when having these discussions, to consider the facts in their entirety.
What the facts demonstrate is that District 1 receives the majority share of transportation investments. This has been true historically, and it continues to be true today.
Consider the county’s three predominant funding pools for transportation.
We allocated $58 million this fiscal year for maintenance and debt service for highways and streets across the county. District 1, which received nearly $23 million this fiscal year, was the top beneficiary, with 40 percent of the expenditures. The district with the second-largest allocation received only 24 percent.
Voters in the 1997 bond election agreed to funnel a portion of gasoline taxes to fund transportation improvements to help roads keep up with population growth. The demand then was for road widening, not pothole repair. District 1 was allocated $156 million – or 62 percent of the total amount expended to date. The district with the second-highest allocation came in far below that, at 13 percent.
Voters in 2006 approved a sales tax increase to fund $2 billion in roadway, safety and transit improvements. Of the projects allocated to the county, as well as other county-funded improvements, District 1 received 56 percent of the total.
If you take the funding sources to build roads and add them together, the inescapable conclusion is that District 1 has seen an impressive $422 million in transportation investments. This is a larger investment than all of the other districts combined, at about 59 percent of the total.
Some clarification also may be helpful when discussing the oft-cited statistic that 72 percent of District 1 roads are sub-par. This is true. But the roads that most of us drive on - the heavily-traveled, major roadways - are not doing too badly on the northwest side. Residents on the northwest side have to contend with pretty bad neighborhood roads, but when you consider the shortfalls in those major roads, only about 19 percent of the need falls within District 1.
Finally, some comparisons have been made regarding the needs along Thornydale Road as opposed to those of Colossal Cave, which was given priority for funding in a recent board decision. There are three factors to consider:
Road widening: Because of funding restraints, the road repair money for a section of Thornydale would not have provided for any widening. It would have shored up pavement. That’s it. It does nothing to address the capacity issues that we know exist and that we’re working to address.
Accidents: Of the two fatalities in the recent past along Thornydale, one involved a driver running a stop sign and another involved a pedestrian crossing the road at a mid-block location. Neither involved congestion or roadway conditions.
Schools: Thornydale Road may serve seven schools, but only one – a high school - is located along the road itself. Colossal Cave has two elementary/middle schools immediately adjacent to the roadway, with two crosswalk zones to protect children walking to school alongside the road.
There is no doubt we need a solution for our transportation shortcomings. This is not new. It has been a crisis that has been brewing for years. For years, I have written memoranda outlining exactly how bad our roads were getting and asking the state legislature to stop raiding the resources we rely upon to keep our transportation networks healthy and viable. The critics now have valid points, but their support would have been helpful back then in rallying to the defense of our roads.
We have an opportunity now to fix it, but it will take some courage.
We have not had a gas tax increase in 23 years. Today’s dollar buys half the construction it did back then, as inflation has ratcheted up the cost of materials and labor. We’re buying less gas because of increased fuel efficiency, which also means less revenue for roads. The gas tax is essentially a user fee, and it is time for an adjustment.
For those who are convinced the money is there and we’re just not putting it in the right place, consider this: We will collect $285 million in property taxes for the county’s general fund this year. The top four services we are mandated to provide – sheriff, indigent health, courts and the county attorney – consume $277 million, or just about 100 percent of the entire property tax levy.
Misinformation is great for driving wedges, but not so good at fixing problems. Solutions require us all pulling together, and not devolving into rhetoric about who’s being left out.
District 1 is absolutely vital to this community’s wellbeing and economic growth. The transportation budget numbers reflect this awareness.
(Editor’s Note: Chuck Huckelberry is the Pima County administrator)