By Kimlye Stager
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema visited with local and regional stakeholders Tuesday in Maricopa about the bipartisan infrastructure law and how it will help Pinal County.
Sinema, D-Ariz., started traveling Arizona a couple of weeks ago. She is meeting local government and community leaders about how to get the infrastructure bill passed into law last year turned into “real projects at home.”
She said the state has always had to fight hard for its fair share of federal funding. She wants to get those “dollars into the ground” to help growing communities like Maricopa and Casa Grande.
The law allocates $1.2 trillion of new federal funding to upgrade the nation’s roads, rail and public transit and for the first time includes broadband as infrastructure.
A large part of the law focuses on investing in water, which is critical for Arizona, especially since it is in a megadrought. There are programs to improve water infrastructure and wastewater treatment, clean up contaminated water and improve water storage in the West.
At an infrastructure roundtable meeting, Sinema was presented with Maricopa’s top four projects: widening State Route 347; the proposed Interstate 11; construction of the Green Road Connector Bypass; and Sonoran Desert Parkway. Each of these projects involve concerns over congestion, safety, quality of life and economic development.
SR 347, the main route between Maricopa and Chandler, has regular accidents, high vehicle emissions and bottlenecks.
There’s over 40,000 vehicles on that road per day.
The improvements for this infrastructure would include widening the existing road to six lanes, which will add safety improvements and traffic mitigations. The reconstruction of the interchange at I-10 would become a diverging diamond.
The estimated cost for this project is over $350 million. This is the breakdown of where the costs would come from:
ADOT — $30 million
Prop. 400/500 — $90 million
Legislature — $35 million
Prop. 417/418 — $30 million
Sonoran Desert Parkway would require partnership with Pinal County and Casa Grande. It would connect western and eastern Pinal County. This would also connect I-10 with a new interchange at Val Vista Road.
The first phase of construction will begin this spring. The estimated cost for this project is over $175 million.
Green Road Connector Bypass would require partnership with the Gila River Indian Community. This would provide a new access point to State Route 238, which is a major Maricopa road. It would lessen the traffic on SR 347.
Since it’s on land owned by GRIC, it would serve an economically distressed community with much potential economic development.
The estimated cost for the project is over $2.5 million for phase one.
Interstate 11 would provide an alternate interstate north to Canada. It would connect to the existing I-11 in Nevada.
It could serve as a truck bypass of Phoenix, which would reduce emissions, congestion and local traffic accidents.
In November 2021, the Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement was completed. Tier 2 evaluations and studies need to happen before construction can be considered. The corridor would be narrowed to a highway alignment, which is around 400 feet wide.
Right now, there aren’t plans or funding available for the Tier 2 studies.
Those living in other parts of the state might not think it’s important to build out infrastructure in places like Casa Grande or Maricopa or tribal communities, but it’s all interconnected, officials said. If goods are being brought from Yuma or Tucson to go up to Phoenix or Flagstaff, the right infrastructure is needed.
Proving interconnectedness takes active participation of mayors and county supervisors. Sinema believes the pandemic opened people’s eyes not only to the importance of broadband, but also interconnections between communities.
“The infrastructure law has really helped us see that each community depends on each other,” she said.
The law was passed without raising taxes.
Since the law was passed last November, Sinema has been working on getting it implemented.
Sinema wants to speak with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg on how to get dollars for planning and access them soon. She hopes they can speak with mayors and local government persons to talk about the funds available for planning and how to access them sooner rather than later.
Maricopa Mayor Christian Price said Arizona Department of Transportation Director John Halikowski told him something Price hadn’t really considered before. The Legislature should allocate $15 million to $20 million per year just to do studies.
“If we did, when Congress turns on the spigot and says ‘here’s a whole bunch of money’ we just pull them off the shelf and state ‘here you go,’” Price said.
Even though the money may be approved, the studies haven’t been done to take the project from A to Z, Price said. It needs to go through the whole alphabet first to get the already approved funds ready for use.
Maricopa City Manager Rick Horst told Sinema that federal guidelines can add to infrastructure costs. He hopes they can work on trying to get a definite set of rules for packages so they don’t have to start and back up again and again on projects. With federal funds, even on local or state roads, rules require following the federal highway design package, which adds 20-30% of the cost and 20-30% to the timeline of getting things built.
“I realize it’s easy to say ‘build all your local roads like federal highways’ but we don’t need 14-foot-wide lane widths locally,” he said.