ADOT, RTA reach possible accord on wildlife crossings - The Explorer: Pima Pinal

ADOT, RTA reach possible accord on wildlife crossings

Wildlife crossing project funds would go in state escrow account

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Posted: Wednesday, November 24, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 8:11 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

State and regional leaders may have reached a financing accord on wildlife crossings along a section of North Oracle Road.

Funding for a proposed series of three wildlife crossing structures traversing Oracle Road at the north end of Oro Valley had been a question mark for the Pima County Regional Transportation Authority and the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Officials in both agencies now say they are poised to sign a contract to establish a payment system to fund the structures.

“It’s the same type of payment structure put in place for the Twin Peaks Project,” said ADOT spokesman Timothy Tait.

Under terms of the agreement, RTA would put money in an escrow account administered by the Arizona State Treasurer’s office. ADOT would request reimbursements throughout the design and construction phases of the project. RTA would review the requests within 14 days, and then deposit the money into the escrow account. RTA would continue to replenish the account until its allocation is exhausted.

Tait said the deal was all but finalized, pending some minor details.

The RTA governing board approved spending $8.2 million for the wildlife crossing projects in December 2009. The voter-approved RTA plan calls for spending some $40 million on similar wildlife crossing projects throughout the 20-year life of the plan.

Voters approved the RTA plan in 2006. It imposes a 1 percent sales tax in the county for roadway and transit improvement projects.

RTA and ADOT officials had been at loggerheads over the payment process for the wildlife structures. Officials with the Pima County-based authority preferred to reimburse the state after work was completed. State officials wanted prepayment.

“This has been the agency’s long-standing practice and is aligned with other transportation agencies around the nation,” ADOT’s media office told The Explorer in a September e-mail when the funding logjam first surfaced.

As envisioned, the main crossing structure would be a vegetated bridge spanning Oracle to connect animal migratory paths between the Santa Catalina and Tortolita mountains. The other two crossings would run beneath Oracle in Oro Valley’s northeastern edge, connecting desert swaths of Catalina State Park with washes west of the highway.

ADOT would have final say over the design and details of the three crossing structures, but intends to accept input from the RTA and other stakeholders, said ADOT spokeswoman Linda Ritter.

The structures would be installed during phases of the state’s Tangerine Road to Pinal County Oracle Road widening project.

One the crossings are completed, they would become state property, Ritter said.

“We would maintain them as needed up to our right-of-way,” Ritter said.

The project, on ADOT’s five-year plan, is tentatively scheduled to begin in fiscal 2013.

A final budget for the overall Oracle Road widening project has not been set.

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