Sep 2, 2022 - News

Most metro Phoenix freeway asphalt is at risk of cracking and potholes

An illustration of a pothole-filled road with a "drive with caution" sign
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

More than half of the rubberized asphalt that coats the Valley's freeways is at serious risk of cracking, crumbling and potholing — and the region has little money to replace it.

State of play: Maricopa County expected to generate $750 million for pavement rehabilitation through the extension of its half-cent transportation tax, known as Proposition 400, but Gov. Doug Ducey shocked local leaders in July when he vetoed a bill that stopped the county from moving forward with extending it.

  • Ducey said at the time: "Now, with inflation higher than it has been in 40 years, is not the time to ask Arizona voters to tax themselves."
  • State law requires Maricopa County to get state approval to hold an election on transportation taxes.

Why it matters: Rubberized asphalt has a useful life of only 10 years and most of the Valley's freeway asphalt was installed 10 to 20 years ago.

  • Maricopa Association of Governments' John Bullen tells Axios Phoenix that much of the asphalt has held up "remarkably well," but as soon as it starts to deteriorate, it cracks and crumbles quickly.

What's happening: A stretch of I-17 north of Peoria Road and U.S. 60 between Gilbert and Greenfield roads have already been stripped down to concrete because the asphalt was so potholed.

The state legislature this session provided funding for pavement rehabilitation on U.S. 60, but there's no funding for a large-scale asphalt replacement program without the continuation of the transportation tax.

Flashback: Valley voters first approved the sales tax in 1985 and extended it in 2005. It will expire in 2025 without an extension.

What's next: Ducey's in the final year of his term, so local leaders could try again next year, but it's not clear whether the next governor would be any more open to it.

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