Serving on the Transportation Board. Road-building Relationships.
Steve Stratton is happy to be back out on the road again.
“Everywhere we go,” he says, “people come in and ask, please fix my roads.”
Steve is chairman of the Arizona State Transportation Board, a seven-member advisory board that reviews transportation projects, legislation, financing, and planning. After 18 months of WebEx meetings, the board met live in June. By September, he expects the public will be able to attend meetings in person.
“I truly hope at some point the voters and the state legislature will get together and resolve the issue of how to fund the road expansions and repairs adequately,” says Steve.
Appointed by Governor Ducey in 2015, Steve represents District #4 – Gila, Graham, and Pinal counties. He sees the state fighting a losing battle when it comes to transportation funding.
Fuel Tax & Funding Facts
In late June, the State Senate passed a Capital Outlay Bill that includes $320 million in one-time funding for transportation. It covers 23 projects, including nearly $1.2 million for the Hill Street Corridor in Globe.
Most transportation projects are funded by a combination of federal (94.3%) and state funds (5.7%). A major source of funding for transportation projects comes from taxes on gasoline: federal (18.4 cents) and state (18 cents). Arizona’s rate is the fifth lowest in the country and has not changed in 20 years. From Steve’s perspective, this is one part of the problem.
“The other piece is that cars are more fuel-efficient or not using fuel at all,” he says. “They produce the same wear and tear on the roads.”
Ideas that may ensure drivers pay their fair share of road care include licensing, paying by the mile, and tolls for some roads and highways. Steve advocated for a toll on I-15, which traverses sensitive environmental areas like Virgin Gorge.
“It’s a highly sensitive environmental area, expensive to do work on,” Steve explains, “and semis can pull triple trailers.”
Arizona has more than 146,000 lane miles – the 33rd highest in the country. In federal lane miles, Arizona ranks second. ADOT allocates funds as follows: 37% to Maricopa, 13% to Pima, and the other 13 counties compete for the remaining 50%.
“We’re growing as a state, and most of the population growth is coming in Pima and Maricopa and Pinal counties,” Steve says. “But all of those people use the other roads in Arizona, most of all the tourists.”
With wider, safer roads, the size and weight of allowable freight can be increased, which positively impacts the area’s mining industry, interstate commerce, and the traveling public. However, money to maintain interstates such as I-15, I-40, I-10, and I-8 comes out of 50% of the funds dedicated to rural Arizona, which impacts the amount left for the other state-maintained roads in Arizona. And this leaves the rural roads used primarily by locals often neglected.
The Chairman, the Diplomat & the District Engineer
Steve Stratton grew up in Globe, third generation. As a boy, he worked for his grandfather, a painter and prospector. His father ran an industrial painting business and worked in the mines. Steve graduated from Globe High School and attended ASU in engineering. Still a big Sun Devils fan, he left early to help with family businesses and his sister’s illness.
Steve spent years working for Sundt Construction before becoming Public Works Director for the City of Globe and then City Administrator (1994-1998). He credits his time with Sundt Construction and working in his family’s businesses with giving him the expertise needed to take on both City positions.
He teamed with vice-mayor Ross Bittner and Mary Lou Tamplin, his assistant, to push through 17 annexations (including the Walmart one) to increase the population and sales tax revenue for the City of Globe.
“Every city and town gets state-shared revenue based on population,” Steve explains, “and if you get 10,000 people, you may get more attention, such as a bigger dot on the map.”
He and Ross were also behind the successful effort to get Globe added to highway signage in the Valley. As a destination, Globe deserved to have signs along the highway, they argued.
At the time, the Governor’s office had two people from Globe on its staff – Joe Albo and Paul Waddell – and Steve and Ross were willing to “go to the ninth floor” to get them involved if they didn’t get the answer they were looking for, explains Steve. But it was unnecessary.
“We got what we came for,” he told Ross.
Economic development and transportation are intricately intertwined. As Public Works Director for Gila County (2002-2015), one of Steve’s duties was to “get close” to the Transportation board.
The transportation board member for District #4 at the time was Ingo Radicke (1937-2009), also from Globe. Born in Berlin, he escaped Germany during World War II in the trunk of a car. He came to the U.S. in 1959, worked for Cable One for 37 years, and served the community in countless ways. He was on the Transportation Board from 1998 to 2004.
“He was the go-getter and had a lot of political clout,” recalls Rick Powers, former ADOT district engineer. “He was involved in everything.”
Rick worked for ADOT for 29 years and currently consults for the industry. He and Ingo were neighbors and friends; they shared fireside chats, and Rick encouraged Ingo to apply for the transportation board position.
“He was very fair,” Rick recalls. “We looked out for our area, but he looked at the whole picture.”
With colleagues in the highway department, Rick produced the road safety and usage studies needed to secure funding for two major projects that happened while Ingo was on the board – 188 to Roosevelt and the widening of Highway 60. Steve Stratton lobbied from his county seat.
“Ingo said that everything we did was a team effort,” Rick remembers.
Ingo had extraordinary team-building skills, according to Rick; some of his teams numbered in the hundreds. He credits Ingo with inclusiveness, attention to detail, creative problem-solving, and good relationships with everyone from legislators to engineers.
“He built the bridge from both ends to the middle,” says Rick.
At the time, freeways were being built in Phoenix, and there was a “big rift” between urban and rural priorities. Ingo was instrumental in getting committed rural funding through the Highway User Revenue Fund (HURF), including to fund the installation of electronic road signs in the rural areas for safety.
Locally, Ingo procured funding for bridge repairs in Miami, the entry to downtown Globe, and sidewalks on Highway 60. He tapped into money for enhancement projects, a subprogram of ADOT that no longer exists.
“We got a lot of projects through that funding, like the windows in the depot station,” says Rick Powers. “Ingo didn’t live to see it done, but he got it started.”
Unique among board members, Ingo dug into the details. He was known to call district engineers to report potholes. If he heard a particular department was holding things up, he’d call them directly to help resolve the issue. When contractors complained that decisions from Phoenix were coming too slowly, Ingo negotiated a delegation of authority for construction up to $200,000. The engineers loved that.
“We had fun. We got a lot accomplished. We had good relationships,” recalls Rick. “Could we have done all that in today’s world? Probably not.”
Transportation Priorities Today
Today, ADOT operates with more data than diplomacy. Projects are presented in a five-year plan, prioritized by traffic count, conditions of road, and input from district engineers. While the transportation board is “by no means a rubber stamp,” according to Steve, its power has been diluted.
“We have the authority to reject the five-year plan,” says Steve, “but we have to jump through more hoops to change it.”
Steve’s six-year term expires in December. Steve says it’s “the little things,” like cutting through red tape and assisting citizens in getting things done, that make the job rewarding: making sure the plaque on Pinto Creek goes to the historical society, for example, or helping a local coffee shop owner get a permit.
Some ADOT accomplishments during his tenure that Steve is proud to have been part of are the funding for the design of widening Highway 260 between Payson and Heber (known as Lions Spring), the wrong-way sensors and signage on 1-17, and the electronic dust warning system in Pinal County on I-10.
The electronic dust warning system, Steve says, “was the first in the nation and has worked successfully.” He says the state plans to install more.
Pinto Creek Bridge had been on the list for a while. Interim repairs revealed more damage than previously known, and the $23.7 million project is now underway. In 2023, Queens Creek Bridge will be replaced for $32 million. Due to delays, Steve’s term will end before the contract is awarded.
“A lot of bridges in the state need help,” says Steve. “The staff does a good job of bringing us the worst ones.”
Both Rick and Steve noted that ADOT isn’t doing more expansion projects in rural Arizona. Instead, the focus is on “mills and fills,” where Steve says the Transportation Board has allocated additional monies to pavement preservation rather than expansion.
“If we let roads go too far, it gets more expensive to repair them,” says Rick.
A traveler, Patti Daley came to Globe in 2016 to face the heat, follow love, and find desert treasure. She writes in many formats and records travel scraps and other musings at daleywriting.com.