Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry is calling on local business leaders to assist the county in devising a comprehensive funding plan to address failing and deteriorating roads.
On Friday, Huckelberry sent out letters to eight local chambers and other pro-business organizations, requesting they “use their considerable clout to push state leaders to a solution.”
According to the American Society of Civil Engineers in its recent 2013 report card, 52 percent of Arizona roads are in poor to mediocre condition, equating to $887 million per year in vehicle repair and operating costs.
Huckelberry says a number of factors have contributed to such road conditions, one of which relates to a significant reduction in Highway User Revenue Funds (HURF) from years past.
A number of factors have caused a reduction in these state-shared revenues, according to Huckelberry’s transportation funding report, which was released earlier this month.
In addition to rising fuel costs and reduction in fuel consumption due to the economic downswing and the increasing number of fuel-efficient vehicles, Huckelberry blames the state legislature in part for local road conditions.
“Another significant factor in the decline of County HURF revenues in the past few years has been the legislative sweeps of funding where the State of Arizona, to balance their budget, diverted funds from HURF to pay for expenses that normally would have been paid through the State’s General Fund,” reads Huckelberry’s report. “These legislative sweeps have been devastating to local governments’ ability to adequately maintain their streets and highways. In Pima County, these legislative sweeps have resulted in an aggregate loss of $37.9 million for highway maintenance and repair.”
Amber Smith, executive director of the Metropolitan Pima Alliance, and Robert Medler, vice president of government affairs for the Tucson Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, were two recipients of Huckelberry’s letter calling for assistance.
They agree the state’s sweep of HURF funds has been detrimental.
“We’ve been advocating for two years to have the HURF funds not be diverted into the state’s General Fund,” said Medler. “Money within those funds should be used for what they are intended for.”
Smith added, “The state legislature is stripping us of transportation resources that are critical for economic development. The state has backed the county into a corner when it comes to local transportation funding.”
A number of Tucson businesses are feeling the effects of the deteriorated roads. Medler says poor road conditions are one of the most popular complaints the chamber receives from businesses.
“It’s common sense to most people – worn down roads have an impact on trucking and shipping, which raises the costs of goods, which raises the cost of shop owners, which raises the cost to consumers,” he said.
In order to make up for the lost funding, Huckelberry’s transportation plan calls for the state’s reimbursement of the near-$38 million in lost highway funding. The plan also suggests the current one-cent per gallon tax currently used for underground storage remediation be directed toward road repair and maintenance, as well as a 10 cent increase in the state gasoline tax to match the taxes of surrounding states.
“This is an issue that should resonate with the business community,” Huckelberry said. “Developing real growth and a vibrant economy remains our top focus – and that is contingent on having a strong, efficient network of roads that provides accessibility and saves time and costs. Now is the time to make sure we’re making wise investments in infrastructure that will advance our economic recovery and stimulate job growth.”
While Medler says more discussion needs to take place before proceeding with the plan, he points out increased taxes could have negative results in an already depressed economy.
Either way, and perhaps most importantly, Medler believes the county needs to stop relying on state shared revenues in order to maintain its transportation infrastructure.
“I think for a while there was a precedence that our infrastructure funding would always be met with state funding,” he said. “We let that precedence dictate that our local budgets would not include infrastructure maintenance, and that needs to be changed.”