As the 10th annual Rural Transportation Summit wrapped up last week in Casa Grande, one theme was preached from the podium by many in the private and public sector who spoke: the future of the transportation landscape in Pinal County and all of Arizona will be shaped heavily for decades to come by studies currently under way.
The RTS, held Jan. 16-18 at the Francisco Grande Hotel in Casa Grande, gave a podium to a number of speakers, including Maricopa Transportation Manager Brent Billingsley, to identify current efforts and problems with transportation in rural Arizona.
Key to all of Arizona will be the results of Building a Quality Arizona’s (BQAZ) Statewide Intrastate Mobility Reconnaissance Study, which focuses on “what transportation is in this state, where it’s going to go and how to identify a long-range planning process that will hopefully move us forward,” said Maricopa Association of Governments senior engineer Bob Hazlett.
Hazlett discussed the ongoing study along with DMJM Harris representative John McNamara and HDR representative Brent Cain, saying the study deals not only with transportation, but includes all areas relative to growth. It broadens even beyond the state’s needs in road and rail, taking a look at the impact of the surrounding states in the Southwest and the impact of growth along Mexico’s border during the next 40 years.
Using current traffic counts and population projections from now until 2050, Cain was able to create a statewide sketch planning tool that highlighted the areas in which highway systems are over-capacity. The model predicts the current state and federal highway infrastructure will be over capacity even in the majority of rural areas by 2050. In more urban sections, such as Interstate 10 between SR 51 and the tunnel, traffic counts are expected to rise from 300,000 cars per day currently to three-quarters of a million per day in 2050.
McNamara said the study will make recommendations on developing corridors from a multi-modal standpoint, saying traffic alleviation may be solved by added light or high-speed rail as much as adding to road capacity in some cases. The study is also incorporating all relevant state, regional and municipal studies, including taking in the list created by the Arizona Department of Transportation in the spring, in response to Gov. Janet Napolitano’s directive to create a priority list of transportation projects for the state.
“Our intent is not to recreate the wheel,” McNamara said. “We will be looking beyond the traditional criteria into areas of smart growth and enhancement to the economy.”
Hazlett said the study will provide not only needs, but solutions as well, saying the gas tax has not been raised even simply to keep up with inflation and is lagging sorely behind in funding the transportation coffers.
David Martin, representing the TIME Coalition, said his group’s polling of state residents showed Arizonans are willing to step up to the plate to fund a well-planned transportation solution, but with several caveats.
Martin said the polling indicated improvements to the state and federal highway system must take priority and regional equity would be key to obtaining voter approval. Voters would be open to light rail as a secondary priority, he said, but are in nearly unanimous agreement that the current system will not support the continued growth for long.
Information from the BQAZ study is expected by late February or early March.