Gov. Janet Napolitano wants to battle the “time tax” of congestion by having voters approve a statewide plan for highways, transit and a Phoenix-to-Tucson rail line.
And she called on the Arizona Legislature to get the transportation package on the ballot this year or by 2009.
The governor didn’t offer a specific plan.
She instead asked lawmakers to craft one soon so the state can prepare for the people who will live in Arizona within a few decades, estimated at 10 million to 12 million people.
She also didn’t say how Arizona will pay to make a transportation network that’s “second to none.”
“It will not be cheap, but we are already lagging, and to continue to wait — to play catch-up — as opposed to planning ahead will only make the whole thing cost more,” Napolitano said.
House Speaker Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, said he’s heard the plan will involve “a significant tax increase,” possibly a sales tax.
Whatever the plan is, elected officials said they need to move fast to start planning and building roads or rail lines.
Arizona can’t afford to keep up with growth unless there’s a new funding source, said Rep. Pete Rios, a Democrat from Hayden whose district includes booming and gridlocked places like Maricopa.
“Even if it is a new tax, we’ve got to build new freeways,” Rios said.
He’d prefer a sales tax to a gas tax because fuel prices are so high. While the slowing economy will make a tax a tough sell, Rios said voters may approve it if congestion is bad enough.
“It’s going to come down to: How frustrated are commuters?” he said.
The plan will involve studying demands for various types of transportation. John McComish, R-Ahwatukee Foothills, said he’s eager to see if a commuter rail line could ease congestion on the Broadway Curve on Interstate 10, where planners have proposed roughly doubling the freeway to 24 lanes. That would make it among the widest freeways in the nation.
McComish questioned whether such a wide freeway is feasible and said a train could eliminate the need for so many new lanes.
“That’s a study we need to do to find out,” he said.
The state needs to start buying land for commuter rail now, before development gobbles up undeveloped land and makes projects more expensive or impossible to build, Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman said.
It’s clear the Valley needs wider freeways and transit options, Hallman said after hearing the governor’s speech at the Capitol.
“We’ve got to work on solutions to help people in the far East Valley and the south East Valley,” Hallman said.
Sen. Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, said the state must consider toll roads or getting private companies to build the roads rather than assume that a new tax will pay for everything.
Voters may reject a tax given the economy now, he said, noting voters rejected an unusually large number of school bond packages last year.
But he stressed the importance of moving quickly.
“Sooner is better than later,” Verschoor said.