$80 million, 5-year transportation plan up for approval

Richard Urban

A drone's eye view of drainage work for the Magma Road project that was completed last year.Photo courtesy of Pinal County Public Works

By Richard Urban / NewsBreak Pinal County, AZ

Over the next five years, Pinal County transportation planners recommend spending $80.2 million on 107 road construction, improvement, and maintenance projects, funded by a half-cent sales tax voters approved in 2005.

The county Board of Supervisors is expected to consider the final draft of the Transportation Improvement & Maintenance Program at its June 8 meeting. The draft, which is updated annually, was posted on the county website in early April and has drawn about 30 comments for supervisors to consider before finalizing the plan.

The plan recommends funding the following projects:

· $39.5 million for repaving roads.

· $31.7 million for new roads construction and reconstruction of existing roads.

· $4.1 million for treating dirt roads to control dust.

· $2.25 million for safety improvements, such as intersection realignments, guardrail installation,
pavement markings, and traffic signals.

· $780,000 for drainage projects.

Suggestions from residents drive the plan’s formulation. The Public Works Department transportation engineers and staff evaluate the suggestions based on a set of criteria that include whether the county owns the right of way, daily traffic counts, whether the county currently maintains the road, and utilities placements.

The department is responsible for about 2,400 miles of roadways across the county’s 5,400 square miles.

The plan usually avoids new construction projects that require rights of way acquisitions, which can add significantly to costs, unless rights of way are donated, said county transportation planner Tara Harman.

The department further evaluates the projects, assigns cost estimates, and prioritizes projects based on what the county Budget Office estimates the sales tax will generate. The tax generated $13.9 million in fiscal year 2021-’22 and is expected to generate $15.6 million in 2022-’23.

“The hard part with that is we program five years in advance. We can determine what the cost would be, but we don't know what the economic climate is going to be five years from now,” Harman said. “So, over the last few years, we've had to add about a 10 to 20 percent contingency to those numbers.”

Ten residents from around the county comprise the Transportation Advisory Committee that reviews and finalizes the draft, which is posted for public review and comment before the supervisors consider it.

Not every project that makes the list gets done as problems can arise after it is compiled. When a project falls off the list, the unused funds are set aside for future projects, Harman said.

For larger projects, such as the $7.25 million Kenworthy Road construction or the $4.25 million Hunt Highway widening, funding is spread over two or three years to prevent a single, major project from pushing other projects aside.

“If it's a large project that has a large number, instead of eating up all of the available funds in that particular year, or a majority of available funds, sometimes we'll take a larger project and program it over several years to collect funds for a few years until we have enough to begin it,” Harman said.

Looking ahead, Harman said that the half-cent sales tax that funds the county’s transportation projects will sunset in 2027. She said she expects the county to put an extension before voters by 2025.

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Richard is an award-winning journalist with more than 40 years experience in newspaper and magazine publishing. He has covered topics that include local and state government and politics, courts and crime, environment, business and innovation.

Phoenix, AZ

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