Editorial: Bill collector will come for I-17; only one solution remains
This week the Arizona Department of Transportation will host a meeting to lay out its plans and options regarding Interstate 17 – how the 60-year-old freeway could be fixed to avoid traffic backups.
The solutions include reversible lanes and climbing lanes, for which construction could begin as soon as 2021 and would be done in phases:
• A third lane on each side of the interstate from Anthem to Black Canyon City.
• Two reversible (flex) lanes in the interstate’s median from Black Canyon City to Sunset Point, the steep stretch there for the busiest direction of travel or in the event of a closure.
• A northbound climbing lane between Black Canyon City and Sunset Point.
Details about this were on the Courier’s front page Friday.
The challenge is the delay and the cost.
There is little we can do about the timeframe; plans, studies and analyses take time. However, in Arizona the latter – the cost – can dictate how quickly the wheels of progress move.
ADOT officials have already said they are still working out the finances. They have applied for a $120 million federal grant that would go with the state’s $180 million match. The third lane between Anthem and Black Canyon City, as well as the flex lanes between Black Canyon City and Sunset Point, could cost $300 million; however, the climbing lane would be part of a future project. The Maricopa Association of Governments has said it will help too.
Confusing – even a little? Basically, the price tag could skyrocket – considering the estimate for one of the phases (Anthem to Black Canyon City) is already $300 million. In early 2017, after some extremely long backups, officials guesstimated a price of $1 billion.
To us this progress will come down to who foots the bill and when.
With the Legislature continuing to dip into Highway User Revenue Funds (HURF), which are meant to fix and build local and county roads, the solution is not an increase in the gasoline tax. While it is the fairest tax – everyone driving pays it – if the state continues to raid funds that money will not reach its intended destination either.
Also, lawmakers already are advancing a vehicle registration fee and allowing counties to seek sales tax hikes to pay for road maintenance.
The only remaining funding source we see is toll roads. Arizonans have long opposed them, but the bill collector will come knocking and all other sources appear tapped.
As we have said before, there is a need – and it makes sense that the people paying for that need be the people who benefit from it most.
Some toll roads are optional and run along existing highways, such as the proposed climbing lanes. If you don’t want to pay, you can move along slowly in traffic on “old I-17.”
We are curious to learn more details of ADOT’s plans. Consider attending the meeting, which is set for 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, April 3, at Canon Elementary School, 34630 S. School Loop Road, Black Canyon City. Otherwise, read the Courier – we will be there and let you know the scoop.
What happens could spell how many more times or how long any of us will have to be stuck on the interstate because of an accident.