SHOW LOW — Standing at the dead end of Scott Ranch Road (near the intersection of Show Low Lake Road) this week on a blustery Tuesday morning Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz) surveyed the area where local officials hope a new bridge will be built to connect Scott Ranch to Porter Mountain Road.
“We are working to get the necessary resources to complete this road — it’s only about a mile, and it also requires a bridge over Show Low Creek — that would connect Show Low to all the towns to the east, Springerville and others. Because right now, if the highway floods, it adds over an hour to the trip and this is the only hospital here, in Show Low. If you’re in Springerville, this is your hospital. So it’s important to Show Low and Springerville, and it’s important to Navajo and Apache counties.”
Kelly came to the White Mountains to talk to mayors, city officials and city managers about infrastructure issues that affect rural Arizona.
Kelly is one of the 22 members of the Senate bipartisan group that reached a $1.2 trillion infrastructure agreement, now called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. He was part of working groups of senators to draft specific portions of the legislation, including those focusing on water and power infrastructure, superfunds and brownfields, permitting and wildfire mitigation.
“I talked to mayors and about 10 city managers at Show Low City Council Chambers,” he said. “We talked about water, water settlements, water infrastructure and drought, and what it means for farmers and ranchers. We also talked about 4FRI (Four Forest Restoration Initiative), which has not gone as any of us had hoped. That contract got cancelled, and what does that mean for rehabbing the forests, which is connected to preventing wildfires? We had the worst wildfire season on record in Arizona this year, and we’ve got to get the 4FRI contract done. We’ve got to restore these forests to what they were like a couple hundred years ago.”
Kelly said the Scott Ranch road and bridge project will cost about $10.5 million.
“We need about $10.5 million of additional federal funding to get this completed, so we’re working with the mayors and city officials on this,’ he said. “It’s important to both Navajo and Apache counties.”
A big infrastructure bill is in the works, with money appropriated for roads and bridges that Kelly hopes will make it through a vote in the House of Representatives and onto Joe Biden’s desk.
“The bill itself is about a trillion dollars,” Kelly said, “and there’s a lot of money in there for roads and bridges. “It’s a repurposed American rescue plan, Cares Act funding. We’ve gone way too long without having a serious upgrade to our country’s infrastructure, and we need to do that if we want to be competitive and bring companies here from overseas.”
Kelly is also a member of the Committee on Environment and Public Works and the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, where he shaped the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act, the Energy Infrastructure Act, and the Drinking Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Act of 2021 — three bipartisan bills that form the backbone of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
As part of the Western Water infrastructure focus, the bill allocates $2.5 billion to fully fund enacted Indian Water Rights settlements that have been waiting on Congress in order to receive full funding to complete tribal water infrastructure projects. This includes settlements for the Gila River Indian Community, the Tohono O’odham Nation, and the White Mountain Apache tribe.
In addition to infrastructure issues, Kelly is also invested in keeping Arizona’s borders safe. After visiting ports of entry in Yuma, Douglas and Nogales, Kelly made it a priority to fund ports of entry modernization to improve border security, reduce wait times for immigrants coming in to the country, and better facilitate trade. He secured the following: $3.85 billion to modernize and improve land ports of entry at our nation’s northern and southwest border; the funds are split between General Services Administration (GSA) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The funds will allow GSA and CBP to execute construction and modernization at all ports on CBP’s Five-Year Plan, as well as those identified as a priority for upgrades. Included on this list are $147 million for the San Luis Port of Entry, $216 million for the new Douglas Port of Entry, and $184 million for rehab at the current Douglas Port of Entry, meaning those three projects are fully funded.
Questioned about what he thinks of the crisis situation at the southern border, which is a concern for many Arizona residents, Kelly said he believes the federal government has dropped the ball.
“The federal government has failed Arizona and other border states on this issue for decades,” he said. “We don’t have the border security we need. We need more staffing at the border, more border agents, and the border control agents we have need to be in the field. We need more technology at the border, and more immigration judges. This (situation) has been a failure in Washington, one administration after another.”
Finally, Kelly was asked how he deals with criticism from some opponents in the political arena. He said he doesn’t concern himself with political disparagers.
“I took this job because I thought it was the right thing to do, to get our country on a different trajectory,” he said. “I’m not a guy who’s reading every article that has my name in it, or looking at comments on Twitter. I’m too busy trying to do the job.”