A $6.6 billion Valley highway funding deficit has prompted the Regional Council of Maricopa Association of Governments to defer or modify projects to balance its budget in response to depressed sales tax revenues.
Money for the projects comes from a voter-approved Proposition 400 half-cent sales tax revenue, a 20-year extension of the freeway construction program.
The postponements and other money-saving measures, including lowering construction costs and scaling back on landscape features, which boil down the budget to $9.4 billion from $16 billion, would be reevaluated in 18 months.
In the East Valley, the changes, among other highways, affect state Route 802 near Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. Construction on the Ellsworth Road to Meridian Drive corridor would be deferred beyond 2026 for savings of about $288 million. However, a traffic interchange next to the airport and an interim roadway between that interchange and Ellsworth Road would be constructed as planned. In doing so, MAG kept in mind plans for a new passenger terminal to the east side, which would benefit from the construction that’s going ahead as planned.
Scott Butler, Mesa’s intergovernmental relations director, said while no one would like to see these projects deferred, the economic reality means people will just have to be patient and expect such postponements.
“Until this downturn, Maricopa County had never seen a decrease in sales tax; we’re in unprecedented times,” he said.
Butler said Mesa worked with MAG to maintain the first phase of the project, to maintain the construction schedule between Loop 202 and Ellsworth Road.
Bob Hazlett, senior engineer at MAG had earlier told the Tribune the rest of the 802 freeway would be deferred because there’s no defined plans for where the 802 is going to go into Pinal County and there’s no funding for it in Pinal County.
For Queen Creek, any improvements to the Loop 202 or the 802 freeway would be beneficial in helping reduce traffic, according to Town Manager John Kross.
“We’re very interested that the first phase of the 802 gets going,” Kross said.
Overall, he said, the traffic primarily is not from Queen Creek but a lot of pass-through traffic from neighboring Johnson Ranch and Pinal County residents.
“There are a lot of people living in this area who work in other parts of the Valley,” Kross said. “So they need to easily get into a major transportation system to cover those distances.”
But Kross added that given that not enough revenue is coming in, it’s understandable that MAG needs to adopt these changes to balance the budget.
MAG spokeswoman Kelly Taft said it’s hoped once the economy rebounds, the projects can be added back on schedule. Higher than anticipated construction costs early on also contributed to the deficit.
Other changes in the East Valley include:
• Deferring a general purpose lane on the Santan Freeway, from U.S. 60 to Interstate 10.
• Direct HOV ramps deferred on the Loop 202 Red Mountain Freeway from Gilbert Road to U.S. 60.
• Deferring interchange construction on the U.S. 60 and Lindsay Road.
• Deferring interchange construction on the Red Mountain Freeway and Mesa Drive.
Many of the projects that are planned for deferrals were scheduled for construction between 2021 and 2026. They’re now being deferred to between 2026 and 2031, beyond the 20-year extension.