Pima County needs a viable plan to pay for road repairs

Our view: As documented, our streets are in poor shape; time to start talking answers
2013-04-17T00:00:00Z Pima County needs a viable plan to pay for road repairs Arizona Daily Star
April 17, 2013 12:00 am

Ba-blump. Ba-blump. That's the sound you often hear while driving on a Pima County street.

It's going to cost about $268 million to bring that and all of the county's roads up to par, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said in a transportation funding report released last week.

Our community's streets are quantifiably bad.

About 52.4 percent of roads are in poor condition, and about 43 percent are in fair to good condition, according to the Pima Association of Governments' recently released updated Regional Transportation System Performance Assessment report, which included all of Pima County.

Rating local pavement conditions using the International Roughness Index, PAG assessed only 4.5 percent of area roads as "excellent," the Star's Becky Pallack reported Monday.

Rough roads wear out autos (ask anyone who has hit a pothole and knocked a car out of alignment) and swerving to avoid debris or patches of deteriorated road endangers pedestrians, cyclists and other drivers.

Clogged intersections chip away at our time by adding waiting periods to our daily commute, Pallack reported.

Cash to fix the roads isn't available primarily because gas-tax revenue hasn't kept up with eroding roadways, Huckelberry's report said.

When you fill your car's gas tank, you pay 19 cents per gallon for roads, which includes 1 cent for remediating underground storage tanks. The gas tax has not increased since 1991 and is among the lowest in the nation.

Last year, revenue from the gas tax was the lowest amount since 1999. It doesn't matter whether Arizonans are intentionally driving less to save money or are driving more fuel-efficient vehicles - less gas usage does not mean less impact on the roadways.

The Legislature balanced the state budget on the backs of county drivers by taking gas-tax money that should have gone to Pima County's roads. The county would have had $38 million more for highway maintenance and repair had the state left those funds alone.

The county can't keep up with construction costs. "The same dollar of revenues in 1991 can now only buy 51 cents of highway improvements," said the report.

Huckelberry told us the report is intended to "start a constructive and intelligent dialogue."

"Everybody has been talking about the problem, but there has not been a cohesive and comprehensive discussion."

Our community must find solutions for road repair and maintenance, and this report should jump-start that conversation.

Pima County supervisors recently spent about $20 million, which fixed about 10 percent of the problem, the report said. That's not enough.

"There has to be a realization that problems are not going to fix themselves," Huckelberry told us.

Some ideas suggested in the report:

• Raise the gas tax. The notion of increasing any tax, especially during an economically volatile time, raises hackles; however, after 22 years, considering an increase is not unreasonable. Arizona's gas tax remains one of the lowest in the nation.

A 10-cent increase would bring Arizona to the current 29.7-cents-per-gallon average gasoline tax of surrounding states, the administrator's report said.

Among gas-tax ideas percolating around the country that could be discussed: structuring the gas tax to increase with inflation and per-mile fees for high-efficiency vehicles.

• Reallocate the 1-cent gas tax for underground storage to roadway repair and maintenance.

• Return the county's portion of the state-shared transportation revenues.

• Ensure that future funding initiatives will cover long-term maintenance.

The creative minds conscientiously considering the problem would undoubtedly generate many workable ideas.

Without concrete, long-term funding solutions, our community's streets will continue to erode.

"There is no alternative plan. Nothing. We will continue to do the best we can, put on band-aids and use $5 million from the general fund," Huckelberry told us. "It would take a long time to erase problems at that rate.

"The next step is to keep talking," Huckelberry said. "We have to start the conversation. It will be a several year process."

We encourage the supervisors to hold public discussions to explore and generate solid, long-term ideas to fund maintenance of our community's roadways.

Arizona Daily Star

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