COOLIDGE — In a disappointment to many local officials and legislators, the legislative budget presented on Tuesday did not include funding for widening of Interstate 10 between Chandler and Casa Grande.
Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, said he would not support a budget that didn’t include the I-10 funding.
“I’ve thrown down a gauntlet of sorts,” Shope said. “My hope is it will be taken seriously and we will have some funds in that direction. That way we can get started on a major project that is long overdue.”
The project, which would add an extra lane along a 26-mile stretch from Loop 202 to State Route 387, was estimated to cost $50 million by the Arizona Department of Transportation.
The highway expansion is seen to be important for the county’s economic development, as companies like Nikola and Lucid bring more jobs into the area. But that stretch of road is already notorious for slow-downs during accidents or construction.
Shope noted the “bobbing and weaving” that occurs without an adequate passing lane, and that the expansion could lessen that kind of activity.
“We often have a major bottleneck,” Shope said. “Not only costing individual drivers their ability to go to work on time or something like catching a Diamondbacks game without having to leave hours ahead of time, but we are also costing the trucking industry man-hours lost by idling on the highway.”
Pinal Partnership President Tony Smith speculated that the project was not ignored but hadn’t made it into the budget draft because the Governor’s Office was still trying to supplement the cost with federal share dollars owed the state.
A separate $33 million project to expand and upgrade the Gila River Bridge on I-10 is still expected to take place. The proposed budget also does include two major transportation projects for Pinal County: a $35 million overpass on State Route 437 over Riggs Road, and a Tier Two study of the North/South Freeway proposal that would go between Apache Junction and Eloy.
“With a high accident rate, that road is a big concern for commuters and everybody that travels that route,” Smith said of the 347-Riggs Road interchange. “I’m very happy that safety concerns can be substantially improved.”
Smith also said Rep. Bret Roberts, R-Maricopa, had done a “yeoman’s job” in getting that project through the legislative cycle.
According to Shope, the Appropriations chairs from both chambers of the Arizona Legislature would be meeting with the Governor’s Office later Wednesday evening, along with the speaker of the House and Senate president, to discuss and negotiate budget issues.