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Valley Metro working to secure federal infrastructure funds

Posted at 6:58 PM, Jan 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-05 20:58:02-05

PHOENIX — Billions of dollars are headed to Arizona as part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill and several agencies including Valley Metro are lining up to secure a big chunk of it.

Valley Metro CEO Scott Smith says most of their projects are light rail extensions that include:

  • Light rail extension along the I-10 from the state capitol to 79th Ave and Desert Sky Mall.
  • Light rail extension along Camelback to North West Phoenix
  • Light rail extension into West Phoenix
  • Streetcar expansion into Mesa
  • Various Bus Rapid Transit upgrades

Smith says they'll be asking for around $1 billion in federal infrastructure funds and the grant process to get the money is not easy.

"Transit grants at the federal level are some of the most challenging, demanding grant projects ever. They take years to go through. The construction is actually the easy part, getting through the grant process is very very demanding," Smith said.

Smith says the feds want to make sure the proposed projects are well planned and impactful.

"They do make you cross all the T's, dot all the I's, and go through all of the environmental and make sure that the federal government is willing to partner with you in these projects," he said.

According to the White House website, Arizona is earmarked to receive $5 billion for highway improvements and nearly $900 million for public transportation.

ABC15 Data Analyst Garrett Archer will track the incoming data from the grant process to shovels in-ground, creating easy-to-understand charts and maps for the public to follow along.

"In Arizona, we have a lot of transportation infrastructure funding mechanisms. We have Prop 300, Prop 400 and now have this federal infrastructure bill, so we also want to be able to tell you where the funding is coming from for the specific infrastructure projects as they go through," Archer said.

Speaking of Prop 400, the half-cent sales tax, Smith says the local funds are critical in securing the grants as it allows them to match federal project funds with local dollars. And it's essential for voters to renew it when it expires in 2025.

"If that is not extended by the voters then these federal monies will never come to the Valley," Smith said.

On the bright side, Smith says the new federal infrastructure funds add to the total pot of funding for some existing grants making it easier to secure money while competing with other cities because there are more total funds to go around.

But he says the grant process is still tedious and slow despite efforts to speed up the process.

"Well that's been a big part of the conversation," Smith said. "I know the Biden administration would like to speed the process up because they want to see the results and show the results of this landmark legislation."

But with so many special interests involved and environmental studies to complete, it may still take years before projects break ground.

"There have been a lot of attempts to speed up the process at the federal level, most of them have aren't very unsuccessful," Smith said.

And with metro Phoenix bursting at the seams, it needs infrastructure quickly. In the past 10 years, as Smith points out, Maricopa County added 900,000 people and is expected to add another million people in the next seven to 10 years. All will need a way to get around safely and efficiently.

"We're not getting any more real estate," Smith said. "And we're packing more people into a metropolitan area."