‘Half-Cent Tax III’ to fund East Valley roads - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

‘Half-Cent Tax III’ to fund East Valley roads

September 28th, 2021 development
‘Half-Cent Tax III’ to fund East Valley roads

By Tom Scanlon, Staff Writer

Asked what part of the Valley he lives in, John Bullen answered, “central.”

Smart move.

Bullen, transportation economic and finance program manager for the Maricopa Association of Governments, probably would hear cries of “favoritism!” from the East Valley if he lived on the west side, or vice versa.

Splitting it down the middle is probably a wise choice for a key player in how billions of dollars or transportation improvements will be spent.

MAG decides where the asphalt gets poured, but not without “vigorous input.”

On Sept. 14, Bullen gave a presentation to the PHX East Valley Partnership on some key information.

On Nov. 2, 2004, Maricopa County voters passed Proposition 400, authorizing a 20-year continuation of the half-cent sales tax for transportation projects in Maricopa County.

Though some were added in later years, most of those projects were outlined in the MAG Regional Transportation Plan.

And, though Prop 400 doesn’t expire for another three-plus years, MAG is eager to line up what can be called “Half-Cent Tax III.”

Bullen told the Partnership Critical Infrastructure and Transportation Committee – led by Jack Sellers, Kevin Olson and Bill Garfield – that the latest version of the Regional Transportation Plan is “near and dear to MAG’s heart.”

On June 22, MAG’s Transportation Policy Committee recommended approval of the draft investment plan, which the MAG Regional Council approved two days later.

Sellers, chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, is vice chair of the MAG transportation committee, which also includes Mesa Mayor John Giles, Chandler Mayor Kevin Hartke (chair of the committee) and Tempe Mayor Corey Woods.

In an email to the Tribune, Giles said, “The extension of Prop 400 is essential for Mesa’s continued economic development and quality of life. Nothing has transformed our city over the last few decades more than the regional infrastructure investments in our freeway system, light rail, city streets and bus network.”

Of the new 25-year plan MAG approved, Giles said, “I’m pleased with the outcome of this process and that it includes improvements to the Loop 202 and State Route 24; an extension of the new Rio Salado streetcar to the Asian and Fiesta District; extensive expansion of bus routes in central and eastern Mesa; and further funding to expand and maintain local streets.”

At the East Valley Partnership meeting, Bullen noted Proposition 300, the original half-cent sales tax passed by voters in 1985, funded the Loop 202. Its successor, Prop 400, put up money for the light rail, the beginning of State Route 24 and “arterial improvements” in the East Valley.

The next transportation proposition (a number has yet to be assigned) will also ask voters for a half-cent sales tax, though Bullen said a 1 cent tax was considered.

The biggest difference: MAG and company will be asking voters for a 25-year plan this time.

In the “can’t please everyone” department: “32 member agencies (were) trying to figure out what priorities are important across the Valley,” Bullen said.

He noted chunks of the East Valley, including Tempe, Chandler and most of Mesa, “are largely built out. They’re in a position of trying to optimize moving people….compared to Queen Creek and east Mesa, they’re still growing, it’s very different.”

The next half-cent tax is expected to generate $36.7 billion over 25 years…

A big chunk of money, but not nearly enough to fund what leaders across the Valley seek.

Bullen said wish list items total $90 billion —more than three times the available revenue.”

He listed a few highlights of what did make the MAG transportation plan:

SR 30, an I-10 alternative planned to run through Avondale, Buckeye and Goodyear.

I-17 reconstruction.

A “full build” of SR 24.

A bus lane of Arizona Avenue, from Chandler to Mesa (where it becomes Country Club Drive).

Expansion of a streetcar that now serves Tempe, “ultimately going out to the Fiesta Mall,” which is closed.

Widening/HOV lanes on the Loop 202/SanTan Freeway.

Bullen said Arizona Legislature must first green-light the plan before it goes to voters in November 2022.

While acknowledging Prop 400 doesn’t expire until 2025, he stressed, “three years is needed to start work on some of those projects, get them queued up.”

In an interview, Bullen, who has been with MAG since 2012, said “that map is intended to demonstrate the big capital projects. I think the freeway system in the East Valley is pretty well finished and matured.”

Though the splashy, big-price tag projects are on the west side, Bullen noted the East Valley has plenty of transportation improvements in the works. 

“Where you see investment in the East Valley is bus transit and arterial (roads),” he said.

“The plan needed to be balanced throughout the region. Investment is balanced on the west side vs. Phoenix vs. the east side. With this plan we’ve achieved that balance,” Bullen insisted.

And, he noted, the plan is hardly set in stone.

“Things evolve, as economic development shifts, certainly there will be updates,” Bullen said.

The public comment period for the Regional Transportation Plan continues through Oct. 13.

To comment, or for more information, visit ourmomentumplan.com or azmag.gov.