I'd like to devote this month's column with a brief recap of last month's transportation events. Based on the view from my vantage point, Pinal County's leaders were anything but asleep at the switch when it came to facing up to the challenges of the critical issue of transportation infrastructure this past month.
The Pinal County Transportation Summit was a rousing success from all accounts. The event 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 summit's purpose was to urge participants 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.
Presentations were made by the transportation planners for Casa Grande, Maricopa, and the County – all of whom provide examples of their current and projected growth and their plans for the immediate future. The event also 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 in answer to the need for transportation projects in the areas adjoining the tribal communities. 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." 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." He also reminded the audience of the challenge 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."
Underscoring this theme, Alan Stephens, Chief of Staff for Operations in Governor Napolitano's office, told the Summit that thinking outside "the financial box" is an absolute necessity because the demand for new and improved transportation infrastructure is a part of the statewide Arizona landscape. He also announced that effective July 1st, Pinal County would have just one ADOT Engineering District to deal with … a move which will greatly facilitate planning and construction.
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. Pinal County governments will be sent a draft resolution that, when adopted, will formally state that government's willingness to participate in a regional transportation planning process. Each local government will also be asked to appoint one elected official and designate one or more staff members to work on the plan's development. The process should take 18 to 24 months and will involve much public input and participation as well.
In closing the summit, I emphasized that roads are only a part of building sustainable communities inside the borders of Pinal County. "We need employment centers, great schools, good roads and affordable housing. 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: so buckle up, plan fast, and drive slowly."
Eight days later, the ADOT Transportation Board met in Casa Grande (as part of their monthly meeting schedule). During their deliberations, the Board voted to move its plans to create freeway corridors in the northern part of the county into its MoveAZ plan which will have the effect of authorizing the Department and Pinal County to move forward with the next steps in creating freeways and/or parkways in that area. In addition to that significant decision, the Board made it clear that similar regional freeway corridor studies were to be undertaken in the western and southern areas of Pinal County. And, in fact, I have already initiated a discussion with Maricopa County Supervisor Wilcox about the concept of just such a study: our respective staff members are exploring the concepts with an eye to some boundary definitions and other prospective partnerships that might be established.
In closing, I'd like to respond to a commonly uttered question/complaint "why don't you just build the roads now and what's taking so long? Stop letting people build here until we have the roads built!" The "short" answer is that just as Rome wasn't built in a day – neither are our roads. Rights of way need to be acquired, engineering needs to be done, political subdivisions need to be involved, and the funding has to be put into place. Certainly in some parts of our County we've been looking at massive growth: but who among us thought it would remain at this pace for this long? And just because some funding's been identified doesn't mean the money's enough since material costs are going up by double digits on a monthly basis. We'll get to where we need to be but it won't happen overnight … and we are, as I hope you can tell, working on the challenge.
Don't forget with spring almost here, that means the Pinal County Fair is just around the corner. This 50th anniversary of Arizona's "Biggest little fair" promises to be a grand event with something for every one! Our Fair Director, Terry Haifley and his terrific staff have been working since early 2005 on making this 50th Pinal County Fair something special. So head on over to Highway 287 and Eleven Mile Corner Road anytime between Wednesday, March 29 through April 2 to have fun and take in a ride or two. You won't be sorry!
David Snider, Supervisor
Pinal County District 3