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Stanton: Cities can’t wait for federal help for transportation projects

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PHOENIX – Cities can’t wait for new federal funding and updated policies needed to advance transportation projects, Mayor Greg Stanton told officials from around the country Monday.

“Times have changed,” Stanton said in a speech to National Association of City Transportation Officials’ Designing Cities conference here. “The old relationship between cities and the federal government has broken down.”

Stanton pointed to the northbound expansion of Metro light rail and Arizona State University’s Downtown Phoenix Campus as city projects that were funded with no federal money.

“We can’t rely on the federal government,” he said. “If we want to advance our city, we have to be more self-reliant. We can’t design a big project and then go to Washington and hope they’ll pick up 80 percent of the tab like maybe we did in the past.”

Stanton also announced the name of Phoenix’s new bike-share program: GRID Bike.

Bike use was a hot topic at the conference, with representatives of several cities touting programs to add bike lanes, connect cyclists with transit options and tap into economic development that cyclists can fuel.

Janette Sadik-Khan, transportation commissioner of New York City and president of the National Association of City Transportation Officials, told the audience “we’re going to have to get more creative” when funding transportation projects.

“When you take a look at the condition of roads and streets and bridges across the country, it’s really in a state of disrepair,” she said. “In order to to be economically competitive globally we need to make that kind of investment.”

Sadik-Khan said that infrastructure investments may have to rely on public-private partnerships, corporate sponsorships such as Citi Bike, New York City’s bike-share program, and taxes specifically for transportation projects.

She held out hope for cities trying to get voters to approve funding.

“Local measures pass as long as the revenues are dedicated in the lockbox to a specific purpose,” Sadik-Khan said. “The public is totally fine with supporting something if they know they’re gonna get X for it. But you can’t just be like, ‘I want transportation improvements.’ It has to be very specific.”

Wylie Bearup, director of Phoenix’s Street Transportation Department, said the city has a variety of challenges trying to both update century-old infrastructure in the urban core and build new infrastructure at the edges with state and federal funding stagnant.

“We don’t see a lot of political will to increase gas taxes,” he said. “So we have to look for other innovative financing abilities.”

Sadik-Khan said the new touchstone for success of city policies has moved from sustainability to job creation following the recession, adding that quantifying economic development will be key to justifying transportation projects.

“That’s the buy-in,” she said. “If you can show the business community the economic development impacts, if you can show the public, you’re going to be in a much stronger position if you’ve got the data behind you.”