Decision-makers have known for months the bad economy has gutted Proposition 400, the 20-year half-cent transportation sales tax passed by Maricopa County voters in 2004. And now the bill has come due.
A good time to ponder the declining state of transportation in the East Valley is while waiting for the Route 136 bus in Mesa.
Due to city budget cuts, Gilbert Road's public transit alternative has an hour-long gap between buses during non-peak times on weekdays and on Saturdays. This only was supposed to last a year, with Mesa anticipating normal half-hour service would resume in mid-2009 thanks to revenue created by a countywide transportation tax.
But when Valley Metro, the region's mass-transit agency, developed its budget for the coming fiscal year, there was no additional money for Route 136. So riders who wait an hour now must wait at least another year for things to get better.
In the coming days, regional leaders will start making hard choices about the future of transportation in the East Valley and elsewhere. The public can make its voice be heard Thursday evening at a hearing in downtown Phoenix.
Decision-makers have known for months the bad economy has gutted Proposition 400, the 20-year half-cent transportation sales tax passed by Maricopa County voters in 2004. And now the bill has come due:
For transit, there will be a decline in forecasted revenues of slightly more than $1 billion through the life of the tax. This amount is further allocated to bus transportation, which declined by $568.4 million, and rail, which declined by $433.6 million.
The plan for new and improved highways, which receives more than half of the tax revenue generated, now is looking at a $6.6 billion deficit. According to the Maricopa Association of Governments, this is due to increased costs of construction and less money to pay for that asphalt.
Forecast revenue through 2026 for arterial projects, meaning streets and intersections, dropped 15 percent - almost $200 million - in a matter of months.
So, some projects, such as light rail's extension into downtown Mesa, will be delayed. There will be "value engineering," where improvements to a major thoroughfare will be scaled back so 80 percent of the expected benefits are achieved at half the cost.
Multiply that by all the highway lanes, bus routes, roads and intersections across the East Valley slated to be built or bettered with money generated by Proposition 400, and the scope of the problem is apparent.
The recent weeks have been an exasperating challenge for all the cities - even those with no projects funded by Proposition 400.
Queen Creek wants improvements made to Meridian Road in east Mesa, as that will provide a much-needed north-south artery. Construction on the stretch between Ray and Germann roads was scheduled to begin as late as 2020.
Now, who knows when?
"It's a really, really frustrating situation," Town Manager John Kross said. "Being so small, there is very little we can really do."
To shave billions of dollars off its deficit, MAG engineers already have compiled a list of what might be eliminated from the plans. The proposal with the largest impact upon the East Valley would be to delay adding general purpose lanes on Loop 202, from Gilbert Road in north Mesa all the way around to where the Santan Freeway meets Interstate 10.
Other money-saving cuts include forgoing the construction of interchanges at Mesa Drive and the Red Mountain Freeway, and Lindsay Road and U.S. 60; and a dedicated carpool-lane on-ramp from the westbound 60 to northbound 202.
In addition, MAG might only construct the first mile of the Williams Gateway Freeway, from the 202 to Ellsworth Road; there would be no building out to the Pinal County line at Meridian.
Thought waiting an hour was bad? Under a proposal going before Valley Metro's board next week, the start of some new routes will be postponed by as long as 18 years. Also delayed may be park-and-ride lots, transit centers and maintenance yards.
In some cases, cities will decide if they want the services enough to pay for them.
But that can get expensive, Mesa deputy transportation director Mike James said. For example, the Route 30, on University Drive, costs the city about $1.5 million annually. Valley Metro was scheduled to take over that line in 2012, but that might get pushed back four years.
And, James continued, cities may decide simply to forgo service on some planned lines.
"Power Road was supposed to come online this summer, and we're missing out on that," James said. "For a long time, we've wanted to get people down to the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport as well as up to the Red Mountain Campus of (Mesa Community College), and we're just not going to have those connections because of the revenue shortfall."
Here, the news may not be so bad.
Metro, the agency running the train line, first had said 2015 would be the target date to open the Dobson Road-to-Mesa Drive extension on Main Street. But due to the lack of money, Metro now gives the date as 2016.
But, James noted, the 20-mile cross-Valley system opened in 2008 - with four days to spare. So it's entirely possible the Mesa extension's delay might look longer on paper than it will be in reality.