Policy-makers won’t have to debate this year whether Arizona needs to accelerate freeway and road construction — the importance of such projects is a foregone conclusion.
Instead, their arguments will center on the means to hurry things up, whether it’s raising taxes, an increase in borrowing limits or opening the door to privately owned toll roads.
Transportation offi cials say the discussion is already happening at local and state levels, a sign that improving Arizona roadways is likely to be among legislative priorities in 2007.
“It’s much more of a frontburner issue,” said Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman Doug Nintzel. “We see that as a good thing.”
Among those who already have weighed in on the matter is Sen. Jay Tibshraeny, R-Chandler, who has said lawmakers need to explore the possibility of “public-private partnerships” as a way to solve the state’s growing transportation demands, adding that toll roads are just one of several possibilities.
Nintzel said the concept of privately built and operated toll roads has regained prominence on a national level in recent years, but with a modern twist.
A Federal Highway Administration report issued in December touts what the administration calls “congestion pricing,” a way of leveraging market forces to reduce the amount of unnecessary traffi c congestion during peak hours.
The idea is to have variably priced toll roads or lanes in which prices go up during peak traffic hours and down at offpeak times. The report notes that the same strategy has been used with success by airlines, wireless phone companies and power utilities.
“There is a consensus among economists that congestion pricing represents the single most viable and sustainable approach to reducing traffi c congestion,” the report says.
Other leaders are looking to more traditional means of funding transportation projects. Gov. Janet Napolitano has said she is contemplating changes to state law that would extend the term of highway bonds from 20 years to 30 years, allowing ADOT to borrow more money.
Sen. Robert Burns, R-Peoria, plans to introduce a bill Tuesday that would transfer $450 million from the state’s “Rainy Day Fund” to a transportation fund meant to accelerate freeway construction projects.
Another possibility would be increasing state taxes that pay for new roads. Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, has said he is weighing the option of replacing the current gasoline tax with a general sales tax that would generate more funds over the long term.
Lawmakers also are likely to consider several bills intended to make Arizona motorists safer. Richard Fimbres, director of the Governor’s Offi ce of Highway Safety, said his priorities include passing a stricter seatbelt law, tougher standards for teen drivers, a booster-seat amendment that extends the applicable age and weight, and a law requiring liquor sellers to register people who buy kegs of beer.
The keg bill, supported by Students Against Destructive Decisions and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, would increase accountability for adults who buy kegs for underage drinkers, Fimbres said.
Ericka Espino, MADD’s executive director in Arizona, said her group will support a number of bills designed to reduce alcoholrelated fatalities and deaths among teenage motorists.
by the numbers
Here are some interesting numbers from recent legislative sessions:
164 Length in days in last year’s legislative session
82 Original goal of leadership
170 Length in days of longest session (1992)
393 Bills signed by governor in 2006 session
3 Number allowed to go into law in 2006 without her signature
43 Number of vetoes in 2006
1 * Number of line-item vetoes in 2006
* Outcome of lawsuit over legality of line-item veto — upheld by the Arizona Supreme Court, which said the governor exceeded her legal authority