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Growth of electric cars may cut funds for future ADOT projects

PHOENIX — As more fuel-efficient and electric cars are on Arizona’s roadways, the Arizona Department of Transportation is dealing with shrinking revenue.

Arizona’s gas tax is one of ADOT’s primary sources of funding. The tax rate of 18 cents per gallon hasn’t changed since 1992, but with drivers filling up less, the department’s Highway User Revenue Fund has seen less income in recent years, spokeswoman Laura Douglas said.

Douglas said the Highway User Revenue Fund is very important for maintaining and expanding Arizona’s transportation infrastructure.

“That combination of the gas tax staying at the same rate that it has for more than 20 years … combined with more fuel-efficient vehicles — people are purchasing gas less overall, people are purchasing new cars less, which mean less revenue for the vehicle license tax — all of that combined has really generated a lot less revenue for construction programs throughout the state,” she said.

Douglas said the reduction in revenue has forced the department to make some difficult decisions.

“When we talk about the needs of our state, from at least a transportation perspective, there’s many needs and not enough money to meet those needs,” she said. “We need to determine how to fund the regular project just moving forward … and also the ones that are being studied right now and (are) something to improve our transportation infrastructure in the future.”

The reduction of funds in recent years and the uncertain future of those funds has realigned ADOT’s focus toward preserving the roughly $19.7 billion of current infrastructure, rather than implementing new expansions, Douglas said.

“You’ll see less expansion projects overall because there’s really fewer dollars to meet those needs and more focus on the preservation of the system,” she said.

Douglas said ADOT is currently looking for ways to generate more sustainable funding and is looking into creating more public-private partnerships that can take some of the department’s workload off its hands.

Garrick Taylor, senior vice president of government relations and communication with the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said Arizona’s economic future is heavily dependent on transportation and legislators should be focusing on transportation funding before it becomes a problem.

“The old model may not be working anymore and we need to look and see what should Arizona’s transportation look like in the future and how should we pay for it,” he said.

Taylor said Arizona should look to other states for ideas on how to deal with transportation issues because dwindling gas tax revenues is not unique to Arizona.