Guest Column: ADOT can't legally divert fuel-tax revenues from highways to transit

2013-05-07T00:00:00Z Guest Column: ADOT can't legally divert fuel-tax revenues from highways to transitJohn Halikowski Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

In its most basic form, transportation is personal to all of us. It connects communities, economies and people. It's how we get to work, school, appointments and activities. It's how we visit loved ones and travel our great state - whether it's by car, truck, bus, bike or walking.

At the Arizona Department of Transportation, we plan for the future to ensure Arizona can compete in the global marketplace. We need a transportation system that can keep up with population growth and future economic and quality of life needs. And we plan for multimodal forms of transportation, including public transit networks, to complement our roadways.

But it's important to address how we fund transportation. While the guest column published last month ("State must invest in tomorrow's transportation needs, not yesterday's," April 12) is idealistic, the notion of ADOT simply diverting highway funds into transit projects is problematic on many levels.

Like any government agency, ADOT must work within the boundaries of Arizona's laws and Constitution. The Arizona Constitution specifically states that revenues from state fuel taxes must be applied to highways. For ADOT to apply more state funds toward transit, either the Legislature or the people must change the laws governing transportation funding.

Although most of the funding for ADOT's Five-Year Program is designated for roads, federal funding sources allow for consideration of multimodal choices as we invest our limited transportation revenue.

It's important to note that ADOT annually flexes $6.5 million of surface transportation program funds into transit capital investments in our Five-Year Program. That amounts to $32.5 million designated for transit programs in every Five-Year Program. We continue to move these dollars into public transit, even as ADOT's share of surface transportation program funds is reduced under the new federal transportation bill. The bulk of funding for transit programs throughout the state comes from grants from the Federal Transit Administration.

ADOT's Multimodal Planning Division sets the course for long-range transportation planning. Some of our current multimodal programs include a Bicycle and Pedestrian Program, Transit Program, Rail Program, Sustainability Program and an Airport Development Program. ADOT is also leading the studies for an Interstate 11 Corridor between Phoenix and Las Vegas, and passenger rail between Phoenix and Tucson. To say ADOT's planning is rooted in the past and not the future is simply incorrect.

Our transportation system does not come cheap. Infrastructure projects cost money - lots of money - and Arizona's 2014-2018 Five-Year Transportation Facilities Construction Program will have $350 million less to work with, due to significantly less revenue from the gas tax and vehicle license tax, and from less federal funding. This is not welcome news, but it's something ADOT has forecast since 2009, and has communicated to lawmakers, local governments and communities throughout Arizona for the past four years.

The limited funding we have in our Five-Year Program will be used for a few expansion projects and to preserve the current system. We need to protect our $18.4 billion investment in the state highway system. If we fail to protect that investment, the cost to replace the system could easily exceed $100 billion. More importantly, we need to start the conversation about how to fund transportation projects as we move forward. Given all the requests for funding transportation projects, the current revenue system for transportation is not sustainable and will not provide for our long-term needs.

Investing in transportation infrastructure is a smart way to boost jobs and the economy - in addition to contributing to a better quality of life today and for future Arizonans. Transportation is one of the great networks we all rely on every day. I can't think of a better way to focus on the future.

John Halikowski is director of the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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