As the Arizona Department of Transportation begins making plans for improvements to the state highway system over the next five years, the major focus will be on preserving existing infrastructure to ensure that it remains in good condition, while providing a reliable transportation network for drivers. It can be a tough balance, as constrained funding simply cannot meet all the transportation needs around the state.

   The 2016-2020 Tentative Five-Year Transportation Facilities Construction Program will be available for public comment beginning next week through ADOT’s website and during the first of three public hearings.

   The Five-Year Program is a lineup of projects that is updated annually. It serves as a blueprint for future projects and designates how much local, state and federal funding is allocated for those projects over the next five years to improve the state’s transportation infrastructure. This includes highways, bridges, transit and aviation.

    Limited funding amid growing statewide transportation needs continues to be the biggest challenge over the next five years. Fewer dollars dedicated to transportation is a result of less revenue from traditional sources of transportation funding, like the state gas tax and vehicle license tax, which support the Five-Year Program. The state gas tax is currently 18 cents per gallon and has not been increased for more than 20 years.

    These transportation funding challenges have signaled a shift to a strong focus on the preservation of the state highway system, to protect a system valued at $19.7 billion. If ADOT did not invest in preservation, it would cost approximately $200 billion to replace our existing highway infrastructure, should it fall into disrepair.

   ADOT is committed to moving major expansion projects forward as well, but with less transportation dollars to stretch, fewer expansion projects make it into the Five-Year Program.

    For the 2016-2020 Tentative Five-Year Program, preservation makes up 29 percent of the projects in the combined regions of the Phoenix and Tucson metropolitan areas and Greater Arizona. Expansion accounts for 59 percent and modernization makes up 12 percent. However, when focused just on Greater Arizona (areas of the state excluding Maricopa and Pima counties), preservation makes up 68 percent of the total projects, expansion makes up eight percent, and modernization makes up 24 percent. Both the Maricopa and Pima county regions in the two metropolitan areas have independent revenue streams established through voter-approved sales tax increases that allow for more expansion projects to take place and for more transportation funding overall.

    The process for each annual Tentative Five-Year Program always begins with a call to the public, an opportunity to voice comments to the State Transportation Board and let the board know which projects are important to communities around Arizona. The public comment period for the 2016-2020 Tentative Five-Year Transportation Facilities Construction Program will get underway next week with the first of three public hearings. The first public hearing will be held on March 20 in Tucson.

  The Tentative Program will be available for public review and comment on March 20 at ADOT has developed a “how to read it” guide and welcomes feedback at A phone number is also available for public comments at 1-855-712-8530.

  The State Transportation Board will consider all public comments received by May 26. Public hearings will be conducted on March 20 in Tucson, April 17 in Phoenix and May 15 in Chino Valley. The board is expected to adopt the final 2016-2020 Five-Year Program at its June 19 meeting in Pinetop-Lakeside.

   Below are the details for each of the public hearings and the June board meeting:

 March 20 at 9 a.m.: Public hearing and board meeting in the Board of Supervisors Hearing Room in the Pima County Administration Building, 130 W. Congress Street, Tucson, AZ 85701

 April 17 at 9 a.m.: Public hearing and board meeting in the ADOT Administration Building Auditorium, 206 S. 17th Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85007

 May 15 at 9 a.m.: Public hearing and board meeting in the Town of Chino Valley Council Chambers, 202 N. State Route 89, Chino Valley, AZ 86323

 June 19 at 9 a.m.: Board meeting at the Pinetop-Lakeside Town Hall, 1360 N. Niels Hansen Lane, Lakeside, AZ 85929