Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The state transportation board recently voted to move forward with a five-year highway construction program. The vote gives the go-ahead for major projects in Maricopa and Pima counties. Scott Omer is the director of the Arizona department of transportation's multimodal planning division. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.
Scott Omer: Thank you.
Ted Simons: This is a five-year highway construction program and basically it was okayed, correct?
Scott Omer: That's true. The department itself develops the five-year program on an annual basis. We prepare that for our state transportation board to approve it. The department's responsibility is to prepare the projects that we would like to see constructed, transportation board passed by statute with approving and adopting the program.
Ted Simons: Basically blueprint.
Scott Omer: Yes, this is our implementation plan for the year. It is like our business plan of what types of specific transportation projects we want to build in this year.
Ted Simons: And specifically and important to note here, designates funding, correct?
Scott Omer: It does, yes, it does.
Ted Simons: We’ll look at some of the projects in Maricopa county especially and some of the concerns regarding funding, but it looks like there is an emphasis on preserving existing highways, am I reading that right?
Scott Omer: That is true. When we went through the recession, glad that it is starting to turn around a little bit, a huge reduction in the amount of funding available for transportation projects nationwide and it hit Arizona very hard. We reduced our total funding for transportation by hundreds of millions of dollars, and, you know, last year it was $350 million. We had to take funding away from our program. As a result of that, it really has made the department focus and put an emphasis on taking care of our existing transportation system, and preserving our assets. So, preservation of the system doesn't necessarily excite a lot of people, but it is our responsibility to take care of our existing pavement and bridges that we have.
Ted Simons: It looks like a 3% increase in preservation funding, something along those lines?
Scott Omer: We are trying to target the preservation program to make sure that we're keeping our existing infrastructure acceptable.
Ted Simons: Is there some plan for a steady increase over the years ahead?
Scott Omer: We developed -- this is our first year of developing a tenure place five-year plan, which means we have to be specific on the amount of funding, and the next five years we plan out the types of projects that we want to see. We increased the amount of preservation funds in that timeframe.
Ted Simons: Before we get to these, discuss if you will, your relationship with the Maricopa Association of Governments, with MAG -- did they decide and did you implement? How does that work?
Scott Omer: We have a great relationship with Maricopa Association of Governments, or MAG. Their responsibility is to identify the specific projects they would like to see constructed in the time frame and our responsibility at ADOT is implement those. But it is their responsibility to choose the projects and we work very, very well together.
Ted Simons: The south mountain freeway, $1.4 billion allocated for construction and we don't even know where that is going to be, do we?
Scott Omer: The study will be completed at the end of the year and it will give the specifics about exactly where the project is and how we're going to be implemented over the long term. We have a good idea. The project is not new. It has been around for a long time. People understand where the alignment is probably going to be. But we can't say the specific alignment until the study is completed at the end of the year.
Ted Simons: You have to make sure that the money is there once it is completed.
Scott Omer: Exactly right. We can't build anything without the funding in place.
Ted Simons: Looks like Grand Avenue and Bell Road interchange as well.
Scott Omer: We have $30 million allocated for that specific interchange. Any time you look at an interchange, traffic interchange in an urbanized area, such as along Grand Avenue, it is a large cost. You have utilities to relocate and right of way to purchase. Any time you look at construction in those areas, the cost is pretty high.
Ted Simons: Loop 303, I-10 interchange, along with I-10, 32nd street all the way to loop 202. Those projects will cost money as well. Money being the operative word. Talk about how the projects are prioritized especially with funding so difficult these days.
Scott Omer: MAG prioritizes those projects. On a statewide basis, we link long-range plan with the capitol program and prioritize projects based on system performance, similar to the way that MAG would do it. We let system performance dictate where we should invest our limited amount of revenue on to the projects themselves.
Ted Simons: Describe system performance. What does that mean?
Scott Omer: To me it is a combination of the condition of your assets. What does your payment look like and what do your bridge conditions look like? Do you have congestion? Do you have sufficient resources to maintain and preserve? You put all those together and that’s system performance.
Ted Simons: You referred to this earlier. The impact of what seems to be stagnant vehicle tax, stagnant gas tax revenue, decreased federal funding, that’s almost got to be topic A over there isn’t it?
Scott Omer: It is. Honestly, if we continue to have just the existing transportation revenue that we have today it is going to be very hard to expand our transportation system. We will be preserving and maintaining it for years and years. If we don't come up with a new revenue stream, we are not going to be able to expand our system the way we would like to and the way we need to. The department, through the effort called the key commerce corridors, we’ve started to identify a potential for a new revenue stream. We completed a study. It is on our web page. Hopefully we will have an opportunity to speak with the public more about it. We need to look at investing in our transportation system. We're talking like a $20 billion investment over the next 20 years to really get us focused on bringing jobs to our economy. That is what we should be doing. That is part of the transportation's mission, too.
Ted Simons: We certainly have the next five years a better indication of what is going to happen there in terms of funding and construction. Good to have you here. Thank you for joining us.
Scott Omer: Thank you.