Some Arizona voters likely to be tapped again as sales tax revenue for roads falls short

Government And Institutions Associated Press

A Maricopa County sales tax increase adopted a decade ago has raised more than $3.1 billion for dozens of freeway, street and transit projects, but that's still $1 billion less than initially projected.

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The Arizona Republic reported Thursday (http://bit.ly/1veFtE4 ) that the revenue gap is expected to widen to about $3.2 billion over the next decade, until the Proposition 400 tax expires in 2025.

As a result, regional officials say the public will almost certainly be asked to approve another tax extension, perhaps as soon as 2020.

Without an extension, the revenue shortfall could jeopardize freeway expansions in the East and West Valleys, a planned light-rail extension into northeast Phoenix and more than two dozen surface-street projects across the region.

Maricopa Association of Governments Transportation Director Eric Anderson said regional planners are already starting to gauge the public's appetite for a "Proposition 500" tax extension.

They initially considered calling for a vote in 2016, but a survey found a great deal of economic uncertainty and a lack of understanding about how transportation is funded among the public. So officials decided to wait until Prop 400 nears expiration and the economy improves, Anderson said.

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Meant to improve the region's sprawling transportation network, the 0.5 percent sales tax increase has made it possible to hop on an express bus from Goodyear to Phoenix, cruise along Loop 303 past Luke Air Force Base and scoot into the carpool lane on the Pima Freeway portion of Loop 101.

The tax revenue has paid for major freeway expansions, light-rail construction, "super-grid" bus routes and nearly 50 other surface-street improvements thus far.

The most expensive freeway undertaking to date is Loop 303 in the far West Valley, which has cost nearly $1.1 billion. An additional $590 million is allocated to further improve the freeway over the next decade.

As the Valley's transit system has expanded into the suburbs, economic development has followed.

Before Loop 202 opened in Gilbert in 2006, the majority of the town's employment base was concentrated near its northern boundary with Mesa, where businesses have access to U.S. 60, Gilbert Economic Development Director Dan Henderson said.

The Santan Freeway has led to the formation of a "central business district" in Gilbert.

In Tempe, stylish apartment and condo buildings have sprouted along a once-blighted corridor thanks to the light rail.

Now central Mesa's light-rail extension, funded in part through regional money, is attracting higher-density projects to the downtown area.

The recession throttled tax revenues in the Phoenix area and local governments had to prioritize transportation projects.

Nearly $4 billion in freeway projects lack enough funding under the existing tax, the biggest of which is State Route 30, intended to relieve traffic from Interstate 10.

About $185 million in surface-street improvements are unfunded as well as about $2.7 billion in transit projects, according to MAG documents.

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Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com