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Last week I had the privilege of attending the groundbreaking ceremony for the improvements to SR189—the main thoroughfare to the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales. The ceremony was the culmination of collaboration over years by federal, state, county, municipal and business leaders to make the project a reality. I’m proud to have had a small role, and applaud those who spent countless hours advocating, taking trips to the Capitol, and patching together the revenues necessary to make the vision for SR189 a reality.

If you have ever traveled to Mexico through the Mariposa Port of Entry, you know how bad the road can get. If you live in Nogales, you know it is a daily problem and a severe safety concern for the community. Hundreds of trucks and thousands of cars travel SR189 every day. It is an integral portion of our surface transportation system in Southern Arizona for the economy. The new passageway will feature above-grade flyover ramps for connections to Interstate 19, new intersections along the road, drainage improvements, as well as other improvements. For specific details on the project, go to azdot.gov/sr189.

The improvement to SR189 is a big project: $134 million for a nearly four-mile corridor. The funding was assembled in a unique manner—federal, state and local revenues were combined to fund the project. A $25 million appropriation by the state of Arizona, as well as a $25 million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant will allow ADOT to build the entire project at once, rather than in two phases. The expedited timeline will result in a savings of $13 million. Those savings will be used for other improvements throughout Arizona.

With gasoline tax rates stagnant for more than two decades, and the increasing mileage efficiency of vehicles, funding for surface transportation is in crisis. Soon gasoline tax revenues will raise just enough to cover the maintenance needs, leaving scraps at best for new roads and expansions of existing roadways. The financing to make SR189 come to fruition is likely what will become the norm for even minor (less than $50 million) improvement projects. Without increased revenues to meet current demands and future needs of the transportation system, our roads will continue to deteriorate, congestion will worsen, and eventually it will have a significant economic impact.

Without vison for transportation policy, courage by elected officials and support by the electorate, our transportation system will suffer. In the coming years, our community will face decisions to fund transportation infrastructure through new and renewed revenues. Will we shy away from a small financial burden, or will we find a way like Nogales did?

 

Robert Medler is the Vice President of the Tucson Metro Chamber.