PHOENIX – Billions of dollars are being poured into Arizona under the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and several agencies, including Valley Metro, are queuing to secure a large portion of it.
Valley Metro CEO Scott Smith says most of their projects are light rail extensions that include:
- Extension of the light rail along I-10 from the State Capitol to 79th Ave and the Desert Sky Mall.
- Extension of the light rail along Camelback to North West Phoenix
- Extension of the light rail to West Phoenix
- Tram extension to Mesa
- Various Bus Rapid Transit upgrades
Smith says they will apply for around $ 1 billion in federal infrastructure funding, and the approval process to get the money isn’t easy.
“Transitional federal grants are some of the toughest, most demanding grant projects ever. They take years to complete. Building is actually the easy part, going through the grant process is very, very demanding,” said Smith.
Smith says federal agencies want to make sure the proposed projects are well planned and effective.
“They make you cross all the ts, cross all the selves and look into all the environmental issues and make sure the federal government is ready to work with you on these projects,” he said.
According to the White House website, Arizona is slated to receive $ 5 billion for highways expansion and nearly $ 900 million for local transportation.
ABC15 data analyst Garrett Archer will track the incoming data from the production process to dig into the ground and create easy-to-understand diagrams and maps for the public to follow.
“In Arizona we have a lot of transportation infrastructure funding mechanisms. We have Prop 300, Prop 400, and now this federal infrastructure bill, so we want to be able to tell you where the funding is coming from for the specific infrastructure projects as they go through,” said Archer.
Regarding Prop 400, the half-cent sales tax, Smith says local funding is critical to securing the grants as it allows them to offset federal project funding in local dollars. And it’s important that voters renew it when it runs out in 2025.
“If that is not extended by the voters, this federal money will never come down,” said Smith.
On the plus side, Smith says the new federal infrastructure funds add to the overall funding pot for some existing grants, making it easier to raise funds while competing with other cities as more funds are available overall.
But he says that despite efforts to expedite the process, the approval process is still lengthy and slow.
“Well that was a big part of the conversation,” said Smith. “I know the Biden government wants to speed up the process because they want to see the results and show the results of this landmark piece of legislation.”
But with so many special interests involved and environmental studies completed, it can still take years for projects to be successful.
“There have been many attempts to speed up the process at the federal level, most of which have not been very successful,” said Smith.
And since the Phoenix Metro is bursting at the seams, it needs infrastructure quickly. In the past 10 years, Smith points out, Maricopa County has gained 900,000 people and is expected to add another million people over the next seven to 10 years. Everyone needs a way to get around safely and efficiently.
“We’re not getting any more real estate,” said Smith. “And we’re packing more people into a metropolitan area.”