Arizona’s long range transportation plan aims to focus on maintaining the state’s existing highway system, with upgrades to improve safety and modernization.

The 25-year long-range plan, known as What Moves You Arizona 2040, is updated every five years, and after a two-year drafting and review process, the plan is set to be approved by the Arizona Department of Transportation in the coming weeks.

“I kind of refer to it as a blueprint,” said Laura Douglas, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Transportation, in a recent interview.

“It’s a guidebook. It’s a policy document. It’s a blueprint. All of those things help guide what the Arizona Department of Transportation is looking at in terms of potential revenue and where we place our investment over the next 25 years,” she added.

While the plan does not include specific projects, it offers a philosophical direction for approaching transportation projects in the future.

In meetings with public officials and stakeholders, participants stressed “preservation, safety and modernization projects” as the areas that should receive the highest priority.

Preservation refers to projects and efforts to keep the existing transportation system “in good repair and functioning well,” said Douglas. 

“What we heard, overwhelmingly, is people want and really do list preservation as the highest of the categories, in terms of preserving what we have in place,” she added. “So that’s really where this guide takes us.

“Modernization or safety, those are improvements that upgrade efficiency, the functionality, the safety of our highway system,” Douglas explained. “They don’t add capacity, but they improve it.”

These projects could include digital message boards, which communicate critical information to motorists. It could also be projects like the wrong-way-driving detection system recently installed along Interstate 17. Last year, ADOT made upgrades to traffic signals along Highway 77, connecting Tucson and Oro Valley to replace aging equipment with signal technology that can be controlled remotely, aiding in traffic flow. 

Some of the more populated and urban corners of Arizona can expect to see new infrastructure projects. The Maricopa County region, which includes Phoenix, has a 22-mile stretch of freeway under construction, known as the Loop South Mountain Freeway, a connection linking the East Valley to the West Valley, and serving as an alternative to the often-congested Interstate 10. Completion for the $1.77 billion project is set for 2019. It should be noted that the South Mountain Freeway is is part of ADOT’s Five-Year Transportation Facilities Construction Program, not the Long-Range Transportation Plan.

The region has some $3 billion in highway projects planned across the next 10 years, to be funded largely by a half-cent sales tax, allowing Maricopa County to not rely solely on state and federal funding.

“So our situation is a little bit different than the rest of the state,” said Eric Anderson, transportation director at the Maricopa Association of Governments. “And so, we continue to expand our highway system.

“The rest of the state, however, is a much different picture,” he added. “And that’s where the state long-range plan really focuses.”

The state will soon begin its annual process to identify actual projects to unfold within the next five years. The process begins in March, with the ADOT board signing off on the projects this summer.

“Those are the projects that are actually moving forward,” Douglas noted. “Most of them have funding attached.”