SIGNAL PEAK — The good news for some major Pinal County highway projects is that nearly all designs, paperwork and intergovernmental agreements are in place to facilitate their approval. Unfortunately, there’s a roadblock, and it’s a big one: money.
According to county officials, everything from the I-10 widening to the proposed North-South Corridor freeway are contingent on finding more financial resources, some of which are held up in the infrastructure bills that have stalled in Congress.
“Money is the transportation problem all the way around,” said Casa Grande Mayor Craig McFarland. “We are at probably $620 million short for I-10.”
McFarland joked that “if anybody would like to contribute” he’d put them in touch with the Arizona Department of Transportation.
Maricopa Mayor Christian Price also expressed frustration with funding and timelines.
“Every time a project is put off, the longer it takes, the more expensive everything gets,” Price said. “We have to keep finding more creative ways to get that money.”
McFarland said there is a final design in place to widen the section of I-10 from the Gila River bridge down to Casa Grande. The Gila River Indian Community is still reviewing plans but GRIC leaders are in support of the project.
Another issue related to money is that McFarland said the Arizona Supreme Court has yet to make a decision on the Pinal Regional Transportation Authority and an excise tax to fund a major transportation plan. McFarland is the chair of the Pinal RTA.
“They kicked the can down the road,” McFarland said of the court. “They’re saying they’re working on it. We are in the midst of trying to get them to make a decision.”
The county has been collecting an additional half-cent sales tax for transportation while distribution has been blocked by a lawsuit, but an appeal is pending with the state high court.
The comments came at a Pinal Partnership breakfast on Friday held at Central Arizona College’s Signal Peak Campus. Panelists Price and McFarland traded friendly barbs on whether their connector road is the “CG-Maricopa Highway” or the “Maricopa-CG Highway.”
Price said he envisioned the latter would be a six-lane parkway eventually, dramatically improving the link between the two cities.
Price reiterated what he said at his State of the City address on Wednesday about State Route 347, which he called “the artery to our heart,” and that there is progress on widening the section from the city of Maricopa up to I-10.
Price said he’d been informed by the Maricopa Association of Governments of $90 million allocated to expand the I-10 interchanges at Wild Horse Pass and Queen Creek Boulevard.
Also on the panel were Shelly Huckfeldt, a regional manager with Union Pacific Railroad, and Christopher Wanamaker, county engineer.
Huckfeldt addressed questions about supply chains, with many delays occurring at the port of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
“What we are seeing is an extremely elevated demand of consumer goods,” Huckfeldt said. “That has been ongoing and consumer buying patterns are just different than they used to be. We are buying online and that goes into the warehouse network, which is having extreme workforce shortages.”
Huckfeldt said that the railroad had increased train size in order to get as much cargo as possible out of the ports. Down the road, Huckfeldt said that the railroad would contribute to Pinal’s burgeoning tech economy by providing raw materials like resin and plastic.
Wanamaker noted that the State Route 24 extension to Ironwood Road is also in need of funding in order for construction to take place.
According to Wanamaker, the Infrastructure for Building America grant program, part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill in Congress, would be a huge source of money over baseline funding for Pinal County projects.
McFarland said that smaller non-highway roadwork, such as widening Thornton Road, are moving forward, and that the Pinal Regional Transportation Authority has $70 million in an escrow account for when projects are approved.
McFarland noted that, along with Thornton, those projects are being driven by a more positive development: the rapid expansion of Lucid Motors manufacturing site with Phase II construction.
“We are trying to expand our roads to handle all the truck traffic coming in,” McFarland said. “Widening Thornton, Peters Road on the north side: There’s just a whole bunch of projects. A lot of industry is coming to the Casa Grande area.”