The Skinny

On the Road Again

Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller wants to spend money on residential streets instead of major roads

Regular readers may recall there was a lot of drama earlier this year when the Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller asked transportation staffers to move road-repair dollars away from major arterials to little-traveled subdivision roads.

As part of last year's budget, the Board of Supervisors had agreed to use $5 million in general-fund dollars to improve Pima County streets. Normally, the county doesn't tap its general fund for road repairs, but instead uses funds from state gas taxes and other dedicated revenues for street repair and maintenance, but that funding hasn't been enough to maintain the streets. So the Board of Supervisors tapped into the general fund.

Transportation staff came up with a list of projects that included major District 1 streets, such as River Road and Sabino Canyon Road. But Miller asked that the funds instead be moved to less-traveled roads in subdivisions and even put in a request to pave Oasis Road near the homes of her campaign supporters and a block from her own home.

Her fellow board members tried to persuade Miller to move the dollars back to the major roads, arguing that they would serve more people. When Miller balked, the other four supervisors instead took the money away from District 1 altogether and instead moved it to the Vail area to fix major problems with Colossal Cave Road.

Miller made a big stink about the transfer and demanded an investigated by the Arizona Attorney General's Office, which cleared her fellow supes of any wrongdoing. (In a spectacularly loony moment, she also called 911 to complain about the Tucson Weekly's coverage of the story, but we digress.)

Flash forward to today: Pima County supervisors have once again agreed to spend $5 million from the general fund on road repairs in this fiscal year.

Miller's District 1 is scheduled to get the most money. The transportation staff nearly $2 million worth of projects, including repairs to River Road, Sabino Canyon Road, First Avenue, La Cholla Road and other streets. (Compare that to the $315,000 scheduled for repairs in Supervisor Ramon Valadez's District 2, or the $448,000 scheduled in Supervisor Richard Elias' District 5.)

And once again, Miller wants to move funding away from major arterials and into little-traveled subdivisions.

Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry advised against Miller's proposed changes in a memo earlier this week.

"While I understand certain members of the Board may wish to propose diversion of some of these funds to local streets, the (Department of Transportation) Director and I recommend against this practice, as we must utilize the scarce resources available to protect the county's greatest investment—our arterial and collector highway system," Huckelberry wrote.

Huckelberry noted that "there is a dramatic difference in the benefits associated" with fixing major streets compared to residential streets, especially when you consider that people who live in Tucson and the surrounding towns aren't going to have any of their streets repaired through this $5 million program.

"Concentrating these investments on the arterial and collector highways provides the greatest benefit to incorporated residents who may have an occasion to drive on the unincorporated arterial and collector highway system," Huckelberry wrote. "It is fairly certain these same city and municipal residents rarely drive on local residential streets within the unincorporated areas of the county."

Huckelberry broke down the average daily trips on the roads that the Department of Transportation proposes to fix. Excluding one project on Silverbell Road, the numbers range from 24,000 to 35,000.

By comparison, the roads in the Sabino Town and Country subdivision and the Golden Heritage subdivision have anywhere from 60 to 180 trips a day.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to take up the issue at its Nov. 18 meeting.

Going Postal

Did a study of the impact of closing Tucson mail processing center get lost in the mail?

As the U.S. Postal Service moved forward with plans to shut down the mail-processing center in Tucson and consolidate all Arizona operations in Maricopa County, the federal agency was supposed to do a study to determine the impact on local mail delivery and determine if the plan would save money.

But a recent federal Office of Inspector General report shows Post Office officials didn't bother with the required study.

The OIG report notes that the "Postal Service has not analyzed the impact of planned service standard changes" in 91 of 95 areas where they are making changes—including Tucson.

City Councilman Richard Fimbres, who has led efforts to reverse the plan to shut down Tucson's Cherrybell facility, said he was stunned to learn that after months of being told the study had been done, postal officials had dropped the ball.

"I couldn't believe it didn't get done," said Fimbres. "They're not even sure it will save money."

But the negative impacts on Tucson are clear, said Fimbres: The loss of 300 direct jobs, slower mail delivery, problems for seniors, veterans and others who receive their medication in the mail, delays in the timely delivery of mail-in ballots at election time, and even a potential economic development hit.

As Fimbres said, when businesses look at Southern Arizona, they weigh a lot of pros and cons—and not having a mail-sorting center could be a major strike against the region.

"They may not even consider Southern Arizona," Fimbres said.

U.S. Reps. Ron Barber, Ann Kirkpatrick and Raul Grijalva, whose districts include Southern Arizona, joined with the other Democrats in Arizona's delegation to write a letter urging Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe to reconsider his plan to shut down the Tucson processing center.

"Arizona is one of the fastest-growing states in the country with a diverse population that lives in urban, rural and tribal communities," they wrote. "We have a large elderly and military veteran population that depends on the timely delivery of mail services for Medicare, Social Security checks and vital medications. Additionally, our business community relies greatly on USPS to deliver time-sensitive materials and depends on the bulk mailing discounts that will be in jeopardy under the proposed plan."

"Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel," airs every Sunday at 9:30 a.m. on KGUN-9. This week's scheduled guests include National Republican Committeeman Bruce Ash and Arizona Education Network President Ann-Eve Pedersen.

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