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2:13 PM Fri, Sept. 21st

Toll Road? - ADOT outlines public-private partnership options for Interstate 17 improvements

Finding a fix for the traffic congestion that frequently plagues Interstate 17 has "become too big for any one solution," according to an official with the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT).

One possible piece of the puzzle, said Gail Lewis, director of ADOT's Office of P3 Initiatives and International Affairs: partnering with a private company to bring about improvements to the busy interstate.

That, in turn, could result in using highway tolls and fees, revenue bonds, or "Grant Anticipation Notes" to repay the private money, Lewis said.

She made a presentation on the I-17 traffic situation to the Central Yavapai Metropolitan Planning Organization (CYMPO) this past week, and outlined the process for a possible public-private partnership (P3) for I-17 improvements.

Although Lewis emphasized that taking such a route would not provide "free money," she said it could help to "shift the risk" involved in such a large undertaking.

Local officials have long expressed concerns about the lane closures that occur frequently on I-17. On a regular basis, drivers sit stranded on the interstate, waiting hours for traffic to clear after major crashes. Such closures effectively shut down transportation and commerce between Phoenix and Northern Arizona.

In April 2015, the CYMPO executive board approved a resolution to the Arizona State Transportation Board, suggesting that the state look into partnering with private enterprise to come up with an interim fix for the interstate.

Lewis presented a number of possible improvements, including near-term, and long-term solutions.

Among the near-term plans:

• $44 million for a new northbound climbing lane from Black Canyon City to Sunset Point.

• $100 million to $125 million for one lane reversible, or two-lane reversible, which would help to deal with rush-hour traffic by opening to northbound traffic on Friday afternoon and evening, for instance, or to southbound traffic on Sunday. (Right-of-way costs are not included in the estimates).

A longer-term fix includes a $500 million project consisting of three south-bound lanes on a new roadway alignment and four northbound lanes. (Right-of-way costs are not included).

"P3s are a tool in the toolbox, but are not the answer to all of ADOT's

funding needs," Lewis told the CYMPO board.

To put the estimated project costs into perspective with ADOT's budget, officials have pointed out that the state department has only about $25 million per year available over the next five years for all rural-Arizona projects.

To determine the feasibility of a public-private partnership, Lewis said she plans to assign a "traffic and revenue" study soon to CDM Smith, an engineering and planning company that ADOT has on retainer for such studies.

That conceptual study will look into "whether it is worth continuing to look at this," Lewis said.

Her presentation included a number of steps necessary for a P3. Among them:

• Project identification: need, approximate cost, approximate scope, and public support.

• Analysis: defining the scope of the project and determining the current status.

• Continued analysis, using the scope assumptions to determine cost, availability of funding, and related information.

• Determining the toll viability, travel alternatives, and expected levels of revenue from several tolling options.

• A value-for-money analysis to determine whether public or private funding provides better value.

• Presentation of the options to the decision-makers, using all of the analyses.

Lewis said results of the initial component should be ready for release to the public by about December.