Arizona lawmaker: Privatized toll roads ‘most doable’ funding option

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Using private financing to build toll roads seems the “most doable” option for Arizona as the state struggles to find additional money to build new highways, a lawmaker said recently.

There’s been strong opposition to the introduction of toll roads in Arizona, but the concept is increasingly regarded by lawmakers as more palatable than boosting gasoline or sales taxes, said Rep. Andy Biggs, co-chairman of a special legislative committee studying transportation ideas.

“I think that it is changed dramatically in the last two years,” Biggs, who also is the House Transportation Committee chairman, told the Associated Press during an interview. “Initially, it was a closed door and nobody would even consider it, but now I think people are saying within certain parameters and certain constraints on new facilities, that it may be something that we should consider. Reality has set in.”

A coalition of business and economic-development groups has been pressing the Republican-led Legislature to act on transportation improvements, calling for a new or increased source of money to pay for projects aimed at relieving congestion. Biggs told the AP he’d demand that tolls only be placed on privately financed new routes and only those which have free alternatives for motorists. Otherwise, “that would be unfair,” he told the news agency.

Voicing similar concerns about congestion, Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano has said she plans by January to present lawmakers with a transportation proposal that could be placed before voters, either in November 2008 or in a 2009 special election. Napolitano has not detailed what she has in mind, but has said she wants new passenger rail service and is not keen on toll roads.

While any tax increase realistically would have to be submitted to voters, the Legislature could act on its own to authorize toll roads, subject to Napolitano’s signature or veto, Biggs told the AP.