A road curves through La Paz County, following the edge of the Colorado River as sheer cliffs loom overhead. Riverside Drive is among the area’s most scenic roadways, but it will remain closed to travelers until it gets state funding needed to repair the surrounding area.
Officials from cities and counties throughout Arizona met in Phoenix last week to discuss the state’s deteriorating road system. And after years of sweeps to Arizona’s Highway User Revenue Fund, this could be where the rubber meets the road.
The area of Riverside Drive has been closed multiple times in recent memory by boulders and rockslides, and now La Paz County officials say they will be unable to keep the road open until funding becomes available to fortify the surrounding area.
“Back in the 90s, that was THE highway to take if you were traveling from L.A. to Lake Havasu,” said La Paz County Supervisor Duce Minor. “Now it’s come back as an issue for the county administration. They estimate it will cost $1 million or $2 million to remediate the hillside. It’s sad … it was, and still is, one of the most beautiful stretches of road in Arizona. Now it’s closed because we can’t do the work to get it fixed.”
The Arizona House of Representatives Transportation Committee heard from Minor, as well as Mohave County Supervisor Jeanne Bishop, and dozens of other officials who testified Wednesday, on the need for additional funding for roads during this year’s budgetary session. According to Gov. Ducey’s 2021 Executive Budget Summary, funding to the Arizona Department of Transportation could surge by more than $66.5 million in the next fiscal year, with a total of $1.03 billion budgeted to Arizona’s transportation system in the next fiscal year.
This week, Bishop discussed the hearing at a meeting of the Mohave County Board of Supervisors.
“I testified as to the poor condition of our roads and stressed the importance of Highway User funds,” Bishop said. “Through the state’s long-range plans, ADOT estimates an under-investment of at least $1.2 billion per year (in roads) for the foreseeable future. That only addresses about 43 percent of the state system’s needs.”
According to Bishop, every county in Arizona is facing similar disrepair in the state’s road system. HURF funding, which is generated through fees applied to vehicle registration and fuel taxes, is a primary source of revenue for state, county and city roads. Millions of dollars in HURF funding, however, has been allocated from the department of transportation in recent years to other agencies including the departments of education and public safety. As a result, Bishop says Mohave County infrastructure projects could cost an estimated $58 million.
“County and city roads are heavily dependent on gas tax revenues, and those are facing similar shortfalls,” Bishop said. “It’s unbelievable. Our legislators know the importance of fixing our roads, and our testimony only reinforced what they already knew. We’re asking for a strategic, sustainable remedy in the state of Arizona for all of our counties and cities.”
Speakers at last week’s meeting of the House Transportation Committee also included officials from Apache, Coconino, La Paz, Navajo, Yavapai and Yuma Counties; as well as the cities of Camp Verde, Cottonwood, Kingman and Yuma.
Minor says 61% of La Paz County’s roads are in either “poor” or “very poor” condition, more La Paz County residents complain about the county’s roads than any other topic.
“We’re not confident something is going to be done this year,” Minor said in an interview Tuesday. “What we’re hearing is there might be some one-time money in the budget for roadwork, and I hope La Paz can be part of that for our immediate concerns. But I don’t know if there will be a fix for HURF this year.”
Yavapai County Supervisor Craig Brown said at the hearing that about $1 billion in state funding would be required to address 60 road maintenance projects in his county. Under current funding models, Brown said it would take an estimated 1,600 years to complete Yavapai County’s road projects.
House Transportation Committee Vice Chairman Leo Biasiucci, of Lake Havasu City, acknowledged the importance of restoring Arizona’s road system, did not see an immediate answer to the issue.
“We’re dealing with an issue where the governor has stated he won’t support any kind of gas tax,” Biasiucci said. “The cars that use the highways, that are fully electric, need to start paying their fair share. We’re looking at cars that get better miles-per-gallon, so they’re using less gas. And you have electric vehicles that are using no gas. What is the solution? Something needs to be done.”