The end of T.I.M.E.

By John Semmens | September 10, 2008

john semmensADOT spokesman Matt Burdick’s characterization of the demise of the TIME Initiative as “a lost opportunity” misses the mark by a wide margin. “Disaster averted” would be a more apt sentiment.

The ineptitude exhibited by the signature-gathering phase of the Initiative was fully in tune with the ineptitude of the entire undertaking. When examined in detail, it should be clear that the TIME Initiative would have been the worst transportation proposition ever placed before Arizona voters.

To begin with, there was no transportation plan behind the Initiative. There were no specific roadways, no specific railways, no projected traffic data, and no projected costs. There was just a $43 billion tax hike that would have been entrusted to bureaucrats to spend wisely.
As a former member of the ADOT bureaucracy (I spent 32 years at ADOT before retiring in August), I can assure you that trusting this bureaucracy to spend money wisely would be a bad bet. ADOT’s failure to comply with the law (ARS 28-504) requiring the presentation of performance measures for transportation investments is evidence the agency cannot be trusted to spend tax dollars wisely.

Instead of complying with this law, ADOT hastily concocted a so-called "Statewide Transportation Investment Strategy." The published version of this strategy shows little evidence of the statutorily required performance analysis.

While the statutes quite clearly require investments to be based on factors like cost per person-mile and impacts on traffic congestion, no information on such measures was offered in support of the Strategy. In fact, the methodology that had stakeholders compile the list of projects blatantly flaunted the legal requirements by using an explicitly political method for making the decision.

As bad as the track record for measuring the performance for prospective highway investments has been, the record for decisions guiding rail passenger train investments is worse. Data published by Valley Metro indicated that light rail passenger train service would be very costly (over $13 per added passenger trip) and have negligible impacts on traffic congestion (make it slightly worse).

Despite this evidence of poor return-on-investment, the Statewide Transportation Investment Strategy calls for an added $7 billion dollars for rail passenger trains – squandering billions on an option that would carry a tiny fraction of the traffic of a single freeway.

Though the TIME Initiative is done for now, these schemes, like Frankenstein’s monster, have a propensity to rise from the dead. Population growth and traffic congestion will be used again to try to gin up support for a sequel.

If we are to get transportation on a sound footing we must make some key changes to the process. First, the sales tax is an inappropriate funding mechanism. Resort to this non-user tax aggravates the traffic congestion the spending is supposed to alleviate.

Transportation facilities should be paid for by the users. This is the link that will promote more efficient and equitable investment. For example, data has consistently shown that heavy vehicles significantly underpay for the road services they consume. This underpayment leads to premature pavement failure and a shift of freight traffic from railroads to highways – increasing highway congestion.

The specific structure of user fees and taxes is something that will need to be worked out by the legislature. But if we are to have any hope of making intelligent decisions in addressing transportation needs this is where we should be getting the money to pay for them.

A fuller analysis of the deficiencies of the TIME Initiative can be found at: