N4T Investigators: Pothole progress? - KVOA | KVOA.com | Tucson, Arizona

N4T Investigators: Pothole progress?

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Tucson - While road repairs are going on in the foothills, a bill is gaining steam in Phoenix that supporters say could finally fix Pima County's awful roads.

Senate bill 1147 was overwhelmingly approved by the transportation committees in both the State Senate and, just yesterday, in the House. The bill will next go to the Ways and Means Committee before it could go to the full floor for debate and a vote. The bill would enable the Board of Supervisors to decide whether to put on the ballot this question for voters: "Do you support a half-cent sales tax increase to pay for road repairs and maintenance?" If approved, Board members we spoke with said they would repeal the 25-cent property tax hike supervisors passed last June.

Pima County Transportation Director Ana Olivares says the tax increase "Would generate enough money that with the combination of other funds, would bring our roads, all of our unincorporated roads in Pima County, to a good condition in 10 years."

Olivares says 70% of county roads are in "failed" condition and that it would cost at least $800 million to fix them. Supporters of the additional half-cent sales tax say it would be a game-changer.

"It probably is the most significant element that we have available to us to repair our roads," says Supervisor Steve Christy (R-District 4.) 

Christy says if voters approve the tax, the board would then repeal the 25-cent property tax. The roadwork being done now is, in part, being paid for with revenues from that property tax. But Christy and other supporters of the sales tax say it would generate a lot more money and fix all the bad roads in 10 years instead of 35 years, as is the current projection with the available revenues. The additional money from the new tax would go to the Regional Transportation Authority to administer, not directly to the County.

Christy told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, 'Evidence is gathering in significant numbers, that the residents of Pima County, would be willing to pay additional taxes if they were guaranteed and had confidence in the fact that that money generated would go in fact to road repair and maintenance."

The key word there is "confidence," which is something many county residents don't have in their government. 

Foothills resident and businesswoman Laurie Wetterschneider is frustrated about years of driving on bad roads. "In the period of about six weeks, I blew three flat-fun tires off of my vehicle," Wetterschneider said. She started a Facebook group called "Tucson Potholes." She wants people to post photos and comments that she passes on to the county transportation department.

We asked Wetterschneider, "Would you be willing to pay a half-cent tax increase to pay to fix these roads?" "Absolutely, she said. "The only thing that I would like to ask is, I would like to know that it is indeed going to fix the roads that I'm speaking about," referring to Ina Road, Campbell and others in the foothills.

We asked Transportation Director Olivares, "What do you say to taxpayers who are asking, 'When will our roads be fixed?'"  She said, "What I tell them is, we have a plan, as soon as we can identify a continuous funding source to do that, then they'll get started being fixed. 

The Pima County Sales Tax Advisory Committee says bad roads cost drivers an extra $542 a year for repairs. The committee recently recommended a half-cent sales tax be passed by the Board of Supervisors. That would require a unanimous vote by the board, which appears unlikely, because Supervisor Ally Miller (R-District 1) has opposed tax hikes in the past. We wanted to interview her for this report, but she did not respond to our request for comment. So it appears if the roads are going to be fixed once and for all, it will be up to voters to decide, and it could be on the ballot as soon as this November.

If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at investigators@kvoa.com or call our tip line at 520-955-4444.

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