ADOT Ready to Study First AZ Toll Road

Article originally posted on Phoenix Business Journal on September 27, 2016

Living or working in the West Valley may mean it’s soon to be time to put a FastPass on your windshield.

Arizona Department of Transportation is starting to explore building a relieving freeway running about 30 miles from State Route 85 in Buckeye to the Durango Curve on Interstate 17. The road, State Route 30, could be Arizona’s first toll road.

The move towards a public-private partnership is an acceleration of a road that was thought not to be needed for decades. With Interstate 10 in the West Valley at a near standstill during rush hour in the West Valley — equal in rankings to what officials call an F — the need is now, ADOT officials said.

“Any way you look at it, level of service F is a problem for West Valley drivers,” said John Halikowski, director of ADOT. “We’re carrying out Gov. (Doug) Ducey’s mandate to think big.”

Ducey is also big on public-private partnerships when it comes to state projects.

For a freeway’s level of service, engineers measure a its volume moving past a given point at posted speed. On a scale from A to F, the level of service tells engineers the flow of traffic with ability to change lanes, avoid accidents and maintain speed.

Halikowski said I-10 has 225,000 vehicles per day cross the traffic counter at 75th Avenue. That number is going to go up as population and West Valley economic investment grow over the coming years.

“SR 30 is a Proposition 400 project,” said Halikowski. “During the recession, (Maricopa Association of Governments) lost significant sales tax revenue and had to rebalance its projects. S.R. 30 was moved to an unfunded Phase 5.” Prop. 400 was the measure to raise funds for freeways through a half-cent sales tax.

Now ADOT and MAG, along with West Valley mayors, are starting to talk about bringing the reliever back into the picture.

“We’re asking city leaders and the public to keep an open mind, and we’re open to suggestions,” Halikowski said. “We’ll also be working with highway developers as we did with the South Mountain Freeway to look at public-private partnerships.”

The South Mountain Freeway, or Loop 202 in the West Valley, is a connector between two sections of I-10. The $1.9 billion roadway is under construction between Ahwatukee and Laveen.

The one major difference between the SR 30 project and Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway is that South Mountain had a projected revenue flow.

“We didn’t need to look at a finance option with South Mountain,” said Halikowski. “We need to perform a traffic and revenue analysis with SR 30.”

The ADOT director said initially the agency believes about half the cost will come from public sources, including Proposition 400 funds, with the other half from the private sector.

“There are advantages financially to building the road now rather than waiting,” he said.

There are many preliminary discussions and public conversations needed before Arizonans will be slowing to “pay toll here.” Now, it’s no longer an ethereal concept; a toll road is likely to be on the horizon.