MARICOPA Chairman of the Pinal County Board of Supervisors Sandie Smith opened the Pinal Regional Transportation Summit with the saying: "If transportation isn't your issue it will be."
The 2006 Transportation Summit brought in leaders, planners and directors from all around central and southern Arizona to develop a dialogue over the future of moving people across Pinal County.
The idea for the summit participants was to urge them to start thinking regionally rather than locally. Participants and speakers came from Pinal, Maricopa, Pima and Gila Counties. The State of Arizona and the Governor's office also played a major role within the summit.
District 3 Supervisor David Snider said the summit was long overdue. "All you need to do is see the population projections and it is clear we are in the crosshairs. If people think that doing nothing is an option then they were not listening at this summit."
John Pein, the State and Regional Planning Manager for the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) said that many areas are currently underway doing a Small Area Transportation Study (SATS). The SATS are a local transportation plan which looks are the area's roads, population and infrastructure to plan for future needs.
"The SATS are the lifeblood of transportation," Pein said. "They help us (ADOT) with the state's long range planning process." Pinal County is currently in the process of conducting their SATS. Public input sessions will be held throughout the County in February.
The summit, held at Harrah's Ak Chin Casino in Maricopa, featured a session with Ak Chin and Gila River Community planners who explained their approach to future road projects and their desire to work with other municipalities to answer the need for transportation projects in the northern Pinal County area.
District 1 Supervisor Lionel Ruiz expressed his pleasure at the attendance for the event. "It's good to see many of the major players come to the table to learn our issues," Ruiz said. "We all need to work together to solve out future needs when it comes to road and other transportation modes."
With Pinal County's population reaching nearly 250,000 residents, growth issues are a focus of many regional planning entities. A sobering message by the planning director of the Central Arizona Association of Governments reminded many that the growth trend won't subside for a while.
"We have studied this issue and have concluded with the amount of state land in Pinal County there is going to be much more development coming," said CAAG's Jack Tomasik.
ADOT Director Victor Mendez was clearly awed by the amount of growth he saw when coming down State Route 347 towards the summit at Maricopa. During his talk to the attendees, Mendez said the sight of the growth was "incredible." Focusing on more than just transportation, Mendez opined that there is more to a community than roads. "There's all sorts of infrastructure needed for a community other than roads," Mendez said. "You need water, stores, schools and hospitals."
When Mendez approached the subject of funding new road construction he said what many participants already held as a core belief: the is not enough money to keep up with all the needs that occur all over the state.
"The funding model is 30 years old," Mendez announced. "The challenge is finding a new funding model." Expanding upon his thought, Mendez said that the funding model agreed upon in 1976, known around the state as the Casa Grande accords, provided 37 percent of the road building money to Maricopa County, 13 percent to Pima County and 50 percent to the rest of the rural counties.
"The funding model is broken," Chairman Smith said. "We are going to have to start to look outside the box when it comes to finding more funding sources to build these needed roads."
Mendez touched upon the recent ADOT corridor studies that were redone to reflect the growth in Pinal County. "We had to go back and look at the growth that occurred in Tempe, Gilbert and Chandler," Mendez said. "We simply assumed the same will happen in northern Pinal County. We reshaped the transportation plan with that in mind."
In his concluding statement Mendez reminded the summit of a mindset that ADOT and the state faces when it comes to transportation solutions. "There are no quick fixes. Working together we will come up with solutions."
To help start the ball rolling on developing a better road system throughout Pinal County, the Board of Supervisors announced at the end of the event that they will fund a study that will look at the roads of regional significance.
In closing the summit, Supervisor Snider emphasized that roads are only a part of building sustainable communities inside the borders of Pinal County. "We need job centers, schools, good roads and good housing," Snider said. "We need to craft our vision for tomorrow. We need to look at roads, bike lanes, hiking trails, airports and equestrian trails. It's time to pull that vision together."
Following the summit, Chairman Smith thought that much was accomplished throughout the entire day, but she cautioned that everyone needs to come to table and be ready to work. "This conference formalized what we have been doing informally," Smith said. "It was well worth it. But we need to make sure every player follows through so we can keep on making progress when it comes to our transportation solutions."