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$72 million Lone Tree bridge tops Flagstaff ballot measure
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$72 million Lone Tree bridge tops Flagstaff ballot measure

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Route Nixty Nixed

Construction workers work in a trench at the intersection of Columbus Avenue and Beaver Street south of Flagstaff Medical Center in June. 

A $72.4 million bridge that would extend Lone Tree Road north over the railroad tracks to East Route 66 could be the most expensive item Flagstaff voters will be asked to weigh in on as part of a $300 million transportation tax package this fall.

Potential ballot questions to pay for construction of the overpass, transit improvements and congestion relief will be up for discussion at Tuesday’s city council work session, when two options for ballot questions will be presented.

The Citizens Transportation Tax Commission, which was created this year to formulate ballot questions for the city’s transportation sales tax, decided to recommend options that include a separate question for the Lone Tree Bridge, and one option that lumps the bridge in with a bundle of “congestion improvements.”

The city has an existing transportation tax, which costs consumers about 43 cents on a $100 purchase. That tax is scheduled to sunset in 2020, but the commission suggested the council place a question on the ballot to extend it to 2040, plus additional questions that would increase the total amount collected by tax, which currently amounts to $7.9 million annually.

The city also has a separate “Road Repair and Street Safety” tax, which is scheduled to sunset in 2034 and generates $6.1 million annually.

David Wessel, the manager of the Flagstaff Metropolitan Planning Organization, said the commission was presented with the city’s “wish list” of infrastructure projects, which totaled about $1 billion. The group was then tasked with narrowing down the projects and creating the ballot questions.

“The commission wanted to present one question that would be a continuation of the existing tax rate,” Wessel said. The other question or questions, depending on which option the council chooses to place on the ballot, would be increases.

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The first of those options has three questions about transit, the Lone Tree Bridge and a congestion relief bundle, which include Lone Tree Road, pedestrian and bicycle improvements and various street repair and improvement projects, Wessel said.

The second option will have two ballot questions: a transit question and a bundle of other improvements, which includes the Lone Tree Bridge, Lone Tree Road, pedestrian and bike improvements and other road improvement projects. The transit question, if passed, would sunset in 10 years, as opposed to the other projects, which would continue for 20 years.

Both options would fund the same projects and collect the same amount of money, but the council will have the choice of how they would like to present the questions to voters.

The improvements for bicycle and pedestrian traffic, which are expected to cost $29 million, include adding sidewalks, bike lanes and FUTS trail where there are disconnects and improving at-grade crossings and bridges and tunnels.

Wessel said each of the commission members sat down individually to prioritize what would be included in the ballot questions.

“There was a consensus around transit, the Lone Tree Bridge and the pedestrian and bike improvements,” Wessel said, adding that a majority of the commissioners supported the miscellaneous road projects.

The Arizona Department of Transportation is conducting studies on Milton Road and Highway 180, which contributed to the reason the commission did not suggest asking for a tax to improve those areas, Wessel said.

“There’s too much uncertainty there,” Wessel said. “The commission elected to invest in Lone Tree Road to create an alternative to Milton.”

The council will hear the commission’s recommendations for the first time at its work session Tuesday, and must reach a decision about what to place on the ballot by the end of June, Wessel said.

The reporter can be reached at cvanek@azdailysun.com or 556-2249.

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City Government and Development Reporter

Corina Vanek covers city government, city growth and development for the Arizona Daily Sun.

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