Arizona’s business leaders eyeing $800 billion economic stimulus proposal

Posted By Mike Padgett

Jan. 9, 2009

The eyes of Arizona’s business leaders are focused more than ever on Washington DC these days, and they’re watching more than the change of leadership at the White House.

Arizona’s construction and design community is studying how federal officials propose to divvy up President-elect Barack Obama’s $800 billion economic stimulus package among 50 states.

That huge measure is why Arizona’s architecture, engineering and construction industries and local and state officials are crafting plans to maximize the state’s share of one of the largest federal public works proposals in the nation’s history. The estimated cost of the measure – anywhere from about $800 billion to $1 trillion – keeps changing because it is still a proposal.

More than 400 architects, engineers, contractors and city, county and state officials met Jan. 8 in Phoenix to discuss ways to leverage the federal proposal with private dollars, and how tedious paperwork processes could be streamlined. The federal dollars could be used for a variety of public works projects, such as highways, freeways, airports, bridges and mass transit systems.

The meeting was organized by the membership of the Alliance for Construction Excellence at Arizona State University. ACE Director Gary Aller said Arizona’s construction and design community’s began working in December to organize the meeting. He said his members are frustrated over the state’s stalled economy as well as excited about getting a share of the massive federal stimulus package.

If approved, the federal measure will include new rules and regulations regarding distribution of the money, accounting and audits. It is unknown whether the money will be sent to the states for distribution, or whether cities, towns and counties may apply directly for it.

“We want to educate everybody because a lot of this is going to happen fast and furious, we hope, when the federal stimulus money comes,” Aller said in his comments to the group.


New state legislation needed?

Aller reminded the architects, engineers, contractors and city officials that to streamline Arizona’s application for the federal measure, new state legislation may be needed. The state Legislature begins its 2009 session Jan. 12.

“There may be other legislative changes we need, and we have very little time to get that put together for this legislative session,” Aller said.

He said a Web site will be set up “so that we can start collecting ideas and thoughts and things that we can do to take action to help Arizona come out of the situation that we’re currently in.”

The half-day conference’s first speaker was Rick Simonetta, chief executive of Valley Metro Rail. He said the federal proposal could help pay for expansion of the 20-mile light rail system, which became operational the last week of December. He said designs are 95 percent complete to extend the light rail line three miles north on 19th Avenue from Bethany Home Road to Dunlap Road. Other extensions are proposed into east Mesa, south Tempe and west from downtown Phoenix along Interstate 10.

Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon told the group that the federal money could help the city pay for more than “$2 billion in critical projects that are ready to go.” Those projects include police stations, water treatment plants, and expansion work at Sky Harbor International Airport.

Across Maricopa County, the Valley’s cities have about $7 billion worth of transportation-related projects that could be funded with the federal monies. Of that total, projects totaling about $1.5 billion are ready to start, said Eric Anderson, transportation director at Maricopa Association of Governments.

The half-day Jan. 8 conference at the Airport Marriott, 1101 N. 44th St., was cosponsored by ASU and the City of Phoenix.


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Jan 9th, 2009

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