By Tammy Gray
Ongoing cuts to transportation funds have left Arizona in such a bind that by 2025 free-flow traffic will be a distant memory on many highways unless new funds become available, according to a report recently unveiled by the National Association of Counties (NACo).
“Free-flow travel conditions will be diminishing statewide,” the report notes. “Without new investment, less than 40 percent of all motor vehicle travel will occur in free-flow conditions in 2025, compared to nearly three-quarters of all motor vehicle travel in 2002.”
According to NACo, 75 percent of the funding for transportation projects in Arizona comes from the state itself, while 25 percent is provided by federal and local government agencies. The report points out that several sources of funding have been cut since the downturn in the economy several years ago, including the elimination of the Local Transportation Assistance Fund.
“The Local Transportation Assistance Fund (LTAF) contains monies from Arizona State Lottery revenues and was distributed to local governments for transportation projects, but the fund was eliminated in 2013 to fill a $1.1 billion budget shortfall,” the report states.
A major source of transportation funding, the Highway User Revenue Fund (HURF) has been raided by the state for several years in order to fill in budget gaps. Funds taken from counties have primarily been diverted to the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS).
Navajo County Governmental Affairs Director Hunter Moore noted the county lost out on $746,317 in HURF and $550,000 in LTAF funding in fiscal year 2014, thanks to raids by the state.
“Total losses for the current fiscal year at the hands of the state? More than $1.8 million,” Moore wrote.
County leaders have been fighting to recapture HURF monies for several years, and may finally be making some progress. The state House passed a bill in early March that protects county HURF funds against raids in the upcoming fiscal year. It states that funding for DPS is to come from the state’s general fund, not from HURF.
“The practical effect of this bill is to fully restore the normal distribution formula of the Highway User Revenue Fund,” a summary by the Arizona League of Cities and Towns notes.
The bill has gone to the Senate Appropriations Committee. If passed, it would establish a guideline for the HURF budget, but does not guarantee that the counties will receive their full share of funding.
Prior to the state sweeps, Navajo County was receiving close to $9 million in HURF funding each fiscal year. For example, distributions to the county were $8.8 million in fiscal year 2005-06, $9.2 million in 2006-07 and $8.9 million in 2007-08. They have dropped steadily since that time, hitting a low of $6.73 million in fiscal year 2011-12, then rising slightly to $6.76 million in fiscal year 2012-13. As of January, the county collected $4 million in HURF revenues for this fiscal year, with five more months to be included before a final total is reached.
Although the House bill is good news for counties and cities that rely on HURF funding to meet transportation needs, it does not address a long-term problem noted in the NACo report. According to the report, tax revenues from gasoline sales, which go into the HURF pool, are stagnant, while road maintenance costs are rising. In addition, many counties and cities across the state have fallen behind on roadwork due to budget cuts.
According to the report, 28 percent of public roads in Arizona are maintained by counties.
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By Tammy Gray