The Arizona Legislature will look for innovative ways to fund construction of additional freeway miles during its 2007 session, the state Senate’s new majority leader said Wednesday.
Sen. Thayer Verschoor (R-Gilbert) told the East Valley Economic Forum he will push for an additional $200 million to be put into a special fund set up by the lawmakers this year to accelerate freeway expansion.
Verschoor also said he will seek to allow private businesses, including developers who would benefit from faster freeway construction, to contribute to the fund and get a deduction from their federal income taxes.
Another funding possibility borrowed from the sports world could be to sell the naming rights for freeways, he said.
“Maybe we could have the University of Phoenix Expressway or the Pepsico Tollway,” he said.
Yet another way to speed up freeway construction is to reduce the cost, he said. Verschoor cited an example from Tampa, Fla., of a freeway that was built using cheaper materials than concrete, which he said could be tried here.
Speakers at the forum, sponsored annually by the East Valley Partnership, emphasized the need to think outside the box to fund transportation projects needed to keep up with the Valley’s rapid growth.
Alan Stephens, chief of staff of operations for Gov. Janet Napolitano, said the governor also supports faster freeway construction and also wants to study ways to finance light-rail and commuter rail projects. finance light rail and commuter rail projects.
“Everywhere the governor has gone across the state, the topic of rail has come up,” he said. “We shouldn’t be about reinventing the wheel here. We have good models in New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and California, which have all opened significant new rail corridors, and we ought to borrow those good ideas.”
Lisa Fenner, director of RBC Capital Markets, said public-private partnerships are being increasingly used in other states to finance transportation projects. She cited the 99-year lease of the Chicago Skyway, which brought $1.8 billion to Chicago, and a 75-year agreement to privatize the Indiana Toll Road, which brought an upfront payment of $3.85 billion to Indiana.
Chicago used the money to pay off debts and improve its bond rating while Indiana set up a trust fund to pay for other transportation projects, she said.
Such sale or leasing of transportation assets can relieve the burden on taxpayers to fund infrastructure and also relieve the government owner of maintenance and operating costs, she said. That can free up additional money for other transportation needs, she said.