Phoenix officials plan to spend over $2.3 billion on street improvements over the next 35 years, so what can Ahwatukee residents expect as their fair share?
Turns out the Street Transportation Department doesn’t think of allocations that way.
“It’s not necessarily based on fair share but rather on our data on the condition of the streets,” department special projects administrator Eileen Yazzie told the Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee on Monday.
That didn’t sit too well with several committee members.
Yazzie gave an overview of the street-repair portion of the city’s Transportation 2050 plan, which is built on the projected $17.7 billion in total revenue expected from the 0.03 percent increase in the sales tax voters OK’d last year. That brought to 0.07 percent the total fraction of sales tax that goes to transportation-related expenditures.
Committee Chairman Chad Blostone and member Michael Hinz both complained about the absence of data showing either the amount of money or total miles of improved roadway that local residents will see from the program—especially since spending decisions are made without any public input.
Such decisions are “mainly data-driven,” Yazzie said, pointing to a photo of a specially equipped van that travels nearly 5,000 miles of city streets to conduct imaging studies of their condition. However, she didn’t know when the van last traveled Ahwatukee’s streets.
Yazzie’s presentation highlighted the committee’s first meeting since August.
Members also re-elected Blostone and Spencer Elliott as chair and vice chair, respectively, and gave the go-ahead to the city planning commission to adopt regulations governing the construction of protective walls around so-called “critical infrastructure sites,” such as water pumping stations and treatment plants.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is pressing municipalities, counties and states throughout the nation to build those walls to protect against terrorist attacks.
And the committee heard Councilman Sal DiCiccio disclose that some progress is being made in his and local legislators’ efforts to make the Chandler Boulevard Extension wider.
Currently, the city plans to spend $11 million to create a two-lane thoroughfare between 27th and 19th avenues that will link at either end with four lanes.
“It is not safe,” DiCiccio said. “We’re working with the city and the Arizona Department of Transportation to get it wider. If an accident occurs in one lane, traffic is shut down and an entire community won’t be able to get in or out. We have to have at least a larger median.”
None of the billions generated by the local sales tax is going to the Chandler Boulevard Extension project. City officials so far have insisted that they can’t afford to make it wider and that data doesn’t show a widening is necessary.
Street improvements are one of three major areas in the city’s plan for spending not only the billions derived from the sales tax but an additional $14.8 billion over 30 years from county, state and federal funds.
Besides the 14 percent of total spending that will go to street improvements, 51 percent will go to a variety of bus-related upgrades and the remaining 35 percent to light rail. There are no plans on the drawing board to extend light rail into Ahwatukee.
Yazzie said that besides maintenance, street improvement spending also goes to technology upgrades that include the replacement of broken street signs and the addition of more left-turn signals; construction of new arterials; and “mobility improvements” such as making bus stops compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Street department officials previously have stated that spending on new arterials is decided by a citizens’ panel and that the Chandler Boulevard Extension was not on its list of approved projects.
Street maintenance and technology spending came under heavy scrutiny by the committee as members complained about rusting light poles throughout Ahwatukee and the absence of any improvements in the conditions of major thoroughfares, including Chandler Boulevard.
Yazzie said that Phoenix has 20,000 street signs citywide that need to be replaced at a total cost of $7 million and that street light replacement and light pole painting are usually accomplished after her department receives a complaint.
“Every pole in Ahwatukee is rusted,” complained committee member Mike Shiller.
“We need to be told when street lights are out or poles need repainted,” she said.
That prompted Blostone to complain, noting that the city doesn’t approach street repaving and repair that way.
“How far are we from a data-driven process?” he asked, prompting Yazzie to reply that she didn’t know.
“I will take that back to my boss,” she added.
Yazzie also promised to have her colleagues examine some of the specific street conditions brought up by committee members.