WASHINGTON – Arizona will receive an additional $380 million in federal highway and transit funds over the next five years under legislation passed by Congress on Thursday.
The funding is considered vital in providing state and local officials in Arizona the certainty to plan and execute large transportation projects. Besides the increased money, the legislation includes language by Sen. John McCain and Rep. Martha McSally that would pave the way for establishing the Sonoran Corridor. And it includes language Rep. Paul Gosar introduced as a separate bill in the House regarding the future Interstate 11.
McCain, who co-sponsored a Senate bill including the I-11 language, said the two provisions would help Arizona become a “key part of an international trade route that reaches all the way to the southern border.”
Arizona’s share of federal highway funds will increase by $344.2 million, or about 10 percent, to $3.9 billion over five years compared with what the old formula would have provided, according to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Transit funding will increase by $35.4 million to a total of $573 million during that period.
McCain voted for the bipartisan, five-year transportation funding, while fellow Republican Sen. Jeff Flake voted against the legislation.
In the House, McSally was the only Arizona Republican to support the measure. Arizona Democrats Raul Grijalva, Ann Kirkpatrick, Ruben Gallego and Kyrsten Sinema also voted for the bill, while Republicans Gosar, Matt Salmon, David Schweikert and Trent Franks voted against the legislation.
John Halikowski, director of the Arizona Department of Transportation, said “having a five-year plan offers the long-term predictability we have been fighting for and helps ADOT better plan, build and sustain a transportation system that improves the quality of life in our growing state.”
Gov. Doug Ducey praised Congress for passing the long-term transportation bill and called it vital to the growth of the state’s economy. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry supported the legislation.
The Sonoran Corridor would create an alternative route to allow hundreds of thousands of freight vehicles traveling through the Mariposa Port of Entry in Nogales to avoid having to pass through Tucson traffic to reach the major trade routes using I-10. The future I-11 would extend from Arizona’s southern border through Phoenix to Las Vegas and north through Nevada.
Three dozen short-term extensions of the highway legislation had been passed by Congress since a four-year bill expired in 2009.
Despite broad bipartisan support for fixing and expanding roads and bridges, lawmakers struggled to patch together funding to supplement the gas tax that finances the bulk of the highway trust fund.
National business groups praised the legislation for creating construction jobs, improving freight delivery and streamlining government regulation.
“This bill is a big step forward and a desperately needed long-term investment in our nation’s infrastructure,” said Jay Timmons, CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers.
President Barack Obama had proposed a $478 billion bill for six years, half funded by taxing corporate profits now held overseas. But Congress didn’t embark on a corporate-tax overhaul, and the Republican majority blocked proposals to raise the gas tax.
Congress set the gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon in 1993, and it hasn’t kept pace with construction demands because of inflation and more fuel-efficient cars. The shortfall has forced lawmakers to scramble to find about $15 billion per year to fund transportation priorities.
To bridge that shortfall, the bill claims $53 billion in Federal Reserve surplus funds during the next decade, $6.9 billion from reducing a Federal Reserve dividend to banks, $6.2 billion from selling a portion of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, $5.2 billion from indexing fees paid to Customs and Border Protection for inflation and collecting $2.4 billion more by allowing the Internal Revenue Service to hire private tax collectors.
USA TODAY reporter Bart Jansen contributed to this article.