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Danger on the road rose last year in Maricopa, according to a state report published Tuesday.

The 2017 Crash Facts for the State of Arizona, an annual summary prepared by the Arizona Department of Transportation, showed vehicle accidents increased nearly 5 percent within city limits from the year before.

There were 298 automobile accidents reported in Maricopa in 2017 – earning the city a third-place rank in Pinal County for the highest number of crashes behind Casa Grande (761) and Apache Junction (456).

Maricopa placed second in the county in the number of alcohol-related crashes last year.

The city experienced 25 accidents that involved alcohol, up from 11 crashes in 2016. Casa Grande again led the category with 26 crashes; Apache Junction followed Maricopa with 21.

In 2017, people injured from alcohol related crashes rose by one (from 9 people the year before to 10).

There were zero crash fatalities attributed to alcohol last year. One death was caused by an alcohol-related crash in 2016.

Maricopa placed third in the number of injury accidents (87), number of property damage only crashes (210), and the number of persons injured in accidents (117). Casa Grande and Apache Junction preceded Maricopa respectively in rank in each of those categories in 2017.

A positive statistic reported in the data showed auto fatalities lowered from the year before.

The number of people killed in Maricopa auto accidents reportedly decreased from three deaths in 2016 to one fatality last year, according to the report.

The statewide report used data compiled from Arizona Traffic Crash Reports that are submitted to ADOT by state, county, city, tribal and other law enforcement agencies, according to the report.

Unincorporated area statistics are not broken down in the summary. View the report here.

Pinal County experienced nearly 4,000 traffic accidents last year – No. 3 in the state behind Maricopa County (93,596) and Pima County (11,707).

In 2017, 1,000 people were killed on roadways statewide.

 

Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Another long-standing structure in the Heritage District went down Thursday morning. The former Pinal County Sheriff’s Office substation that most recently served as the F.O.R. Maricopa Food Bank was turned into scrap while subcontractor Breinholt Construction also scooped up the pavement of the parking lot. Former fire department administration buildings in the same lot are next on the list as the Arizona Department of Transportation prepares for Ames Construction to begin work on a new overpass across the railroad bridge. Earlier this week, Spoon’s diner, the Copa Center and other structures were demolished.

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Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The Copa Center and Spoon’s diner were demolished Tuesday morning as Arizona Department of Transportation started to clear land it acquired for an overpass across the railroad tracks. There are about three weeks of demolitions in store as well as utility work.

Photo by Mason Callejas

 

Neighbors in a residential area say their quality of life has been disturbed and their road safety is at risk thanks to a speed limit increase on a busy state route.

Greg Swindall, his wife Carol and their friend Roger Tull are Acacia Crossings residents with a bone to pick with the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Their neighborhood borders SR 238 and, for the past six months, their friends and they have noticed an increase in traffic noise and speed.

The culprit?

ADOT increased the speed limit on the highway from 40 mph to 50 mph next to the subdivision in August, and neighbors complain large trucks and other traffic drive well over the new speed limit.

“The real problem is when diesel trucks come into town and they’re engine breaking,” Greg Swindall said. “They’re down-shifting and some of those engines are really, really loud.”

Tull, vice president for the neighborhood HOA board, said residents make regular complaints during meetings against the loud, rumbling noise braking diesel trucks make when approaching John Wayne Parkway.

Carol Swindall was visiting her neighbor one morning and heard a big rig brake just outside the subdivision.

“I about jumped out of my seat. It was so loud,” she said.

But the noise increase isn’t the only issue. Residents say safety is a concern too.

Traffic heading east and west is traveling around 10 mph over the new limits, neighbors estimate, and it’s making access out of their neighborhood more difficult and dangerous.

“Now when they come in town they’re doing 60 to 65 mph, and when you’re turning out of Roosevelt and you’re not used to those trucks being on top of you in a heartbeat, we have pulled out and really had to speed up because you don’t realize how fast those trucks are going,” Greg Swindall said.

Residents expressed their concerns with ADOT online and by telephone, but ADOT redirects their concerns to local authorities or within their own engineering department. The Swindalls said follow-up is non-existent.

“I just don’t understand the rationale of why they did it,” Greg Swindall said. “Why would you increase the speed right behind a residential area?”

ADOT spokesman Tom Herrmann said the reason behind the increase is department staff observed traffic in the area driving faster than the previously posted speed limits.

Herrmann said most of the speed limits in the ADOT-managed stretch of SR 238 were generally 55 mph.

The observation led to a speed study.

“Following the ‘Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices’ from the Federal Highway Administration, speed limits are posted to reflect the maximum speed considered safe and reasonable by the majority of drivers,” Herrmann said.

The majority of drivers defined by ADOT is the speed driven at or below by 85 percent of drivers.

West of Acacia Crossings, the study led ADOT to increase its portion of the roadway from 55 mph to 60 mph.

But residents in the subdivision experienced what they view as a substantial 10 mph increase just outside their neighborhood and would like to see it changed back.

“We aren’t asking a whole lot. Just put it back the way it was,” Greg Swindall said.


This story appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.

A freight train rolls across SR 347, delaying traffic in a familiar scene for Maricopans. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Construction trailers for the overpass are expected to be in place in Maricopa by the end of the week.

But that is not the beginning of construction.

Maricopa Public Works Director Bill Fay said Ames Construction, the contractor for Arizona Department of Transportation, has not yet submitted a formal calendar to ADOT. Ames is also working on major projects like the South Mountain Freeway.

Fay said Ames has been working on value engineering analysis with ADOT. That could involve installing longer girders for the same money as the planned girders.

“They have plenty of time to start construction,” Fay said. “Even if they were to sit another four months.”

The planned overpass, or grade separation, will carry John Wayne Parkway traffic across the Union Pacific tracks on a bridge.

The construction trailers are planned to be placed south of the tracks near Honeycutt Avenue.

The city held a formal groundbreaking ceremony for the project Nov. 20.



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Traffic waits at a light at the Union Pacific tracks, where an overpass is planned.

Though overpass construction is delayed, Arizona Department of Transportation intends to begin tearing down structures on properties it owns in the Heritage District in mid-February to make way for the overpass.

Those properties include the former fire department administration buildings, the Copa Center and the former sheriff’s office building that used to house F.O.R. Maricopa Food Bank.

Maricopa Fire/Medical Department has relocated its administration to 45654 W. Edison Road across from Fire Station 575. F.O.R. has moved its food distribution to Santa Cruz Elementary School while it prepares its new property beside the blue Business Barn south of the railroad tracks. Senior citizens who used to patronize the Copa Center for games and gatherings have also been relocated to Santa Cruz Elementary.

Actual construction of the overpass is expected to begin later in February or early March, delayed by contractor Ames Construction’s continuing work on an earlier project. ADOT spokesman Tom Herrmann said an official start date for construction has not been set.

'Dancing this dance of sensitivity'

ADOT

A joint-litigation attorney for Pinal County Regional Transportation Authority wrote a letter to the Department of Revenue on Wednesday asking when and how the voter-approved half-cent sales tax will be implemented.

The sales tax is the funding mechanism for countywide road improvements, including the widening of State Route 347. RTA-related propositions 416 and 417 were approved in November.

PRTA General Manager Andy Smith told board members Wednesday a response from ADOR is expected by Feb. 5.

A sticking point in the progress of RTA planning is a lawsuit filed by the Goldwater Institute in December challenging the validity of the half-cent sales tax. Goldwater’s attorneys claim Prop 417 exceeds the county authority by taxing only items below $10,000, “creating a new tax classification instead of a variable rate and violates the Equal Protection Clause by taxing transactions below an arbitrary threshold amount but not above that amount.”

The Goldwater Institute is suing Pinal County, PRTA and the Department of Revenue on behalf of two county residents and the Arizona Restaurant Association.

Smith said the respective attorneys “have been having conversations” to create briefs and establish “stipulated facts.”

The PRTA board has hopes for an April 1 implementation of the tax.

Maricopa Mayor Christian Price, a member of the board, explained the challenges of SR 347, both geographically and politically. The main agencies involved in adding lanes to the highway are PRTA, Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), Gila River Indian Community and Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG).

“It’s an incredibly complex road,” Price said. “It’s on Gila River land, it crosses county lines, it’s a state-owned road, it’s the city of Maricopa pushing for it.”

To prevent bottle-neck at the county line, “we need help on the Maricopa County side,” Price said. Maricopa leaders have been in discussions with MAG and Gila River for years. MAG specifically has discussed solutions for problems at interchanges at Riggs Road and old Maricopa Highway (Wild Horse Pass) and the possibility of using MC Prop 400 funds for improvements.

In the ongoing discussions, the sour relationship between Gila River and ADOT is “throwing things out of whack,” Price said. Gila River sued the state in 2015 over the South Mountain Freeway construction.

“MAG is conducting the scoping study, and we’ll kind of leave it in their hands because of the sensitivities,” Price said.

“Obviously, to come up with a fix for you all in Maricopa, that’s going to take Maricopa County to get involved,” county Supervisor Pete Rios said. He warned that often Native American communities are planning “seven generations down the road. We do need to be sensitive to where some of these tribes are coming from.”

Price said he has been working with Gila River Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis for two years. “We’re really trying to dance this dance of sensitivity,” he said.

The RTA plan is to provide $28.8 million over the next five years to fund additional lanes for nine miles of SR 347.


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City Councilmembers (from left) Nancy Smith, Henry Wade, Peggy Chapados, Mayor Christian Price, Vice Mayor Marvin Brown, Vincent Manfredi and Julia Gusse turn dirt for the formal groundbreaking ceremony Monday. Photo by Mason Callejas

An infrastructure project 15 years in the making finally broke ground Monday morning.

City officials broke ground for the overpass at State Route 347 and the Union Pacific Railroad crossing.

A who’s who of Maricopa leadership came out to a vacant lot on John Wayne Parkway and Honeycutt Road, property that will be beneath the future overpass, to witness the ceremonial launch of the historical event.

“When we’re here today on this momentous and historic day, it’s not because we just decided that yesterday we needed an overpass and we just finally got around to doing it,” said Mayor Christian Price speaking to a sizeable crowd. “It’s because it’s been in the works for 15 years.”

Along with city council members and staff, Price also reunited with the city’s former leaders to break ground on the State Route 347 overpass above the Union Pacific Rail Road crossing.

Former Mayors Edward Farrell, Kelly Anderson and Anthony Smith attended the groundbreaking.

Price honored his predecessors with a gift for their contributions to the overpass.

“I think this goes way, way back to probably August of 2003 when Mayor Farrell formed the committee to incorporate because if we hadn’t taken the step to incorporate we would not be here because we didn’t have the political clout to do this,”

Farrell is the first mayor of Maricopa. He led the once-small town toward cityhood over 15 years ago.

I think it’s awesome, as Kelly can agree with me because we were here from day one, and at day one that overpass was a priority. For the mayors that follow after us to take it where we left off – Mayor Smith starting it in 2008 – and Mayor Price to take it from third-base-to-home, he did an outstanding job. It’s a very special day,” Farrell said.

Smith, now a Pinal County supervisor said the overpass is one step in a long line of upcoming improvements to the 347.

“This is kind of a warm up for really where we are heading in the future, so I know it’s difficult, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Smith said.

City leaders braced residents to be patient with the project’s related traffic delays. Construction is slated to being by Nov. 25. Until then, Price said it’s time to celebrate.

“Congratulations, we’re getting an overpass,” he said.


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A freight train rolls across SR 347, delaying traffic in a familiar scene for Maricopans. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

A formal groundbreaking for the construction of an overpass on State Route 347 across the Union Pacific Railroad tracks will take place Nov. 20. A ceremony is set at 10 a.m. at the northeast corner of John Wayne Parkway and Honeycutt Road.

Coming in more than $5 million under project estimates, Ames Construction was chosen as the general contractor to build the overpass and realign local streets. Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman Tom Hermann said the work will begin within 60 days of Ames being selected, which occurred Sept. 15.

Based in Scottsdale, Ames has 750 days to complete the project. Its winning bid was $23.1 million. The City of Maricopa is contributing almost $14 million to the project, which has a total estimate of $55 million.

The first construction is expected to take place away from the current roadway.

“The early stages of the project will mean few, if any, traffic restrictions,” Hermann said. “Most of the work will be done in the future path of SR 347, east of the current alignment. We recognize the importance of both SR 347 and Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway, and we’ll work to keep any restrictions to a minimum.”

The project will create a six-lane overpass from Hathaway Avenue south to Desert Cedars Drive. It includes the realignment of Honeycutt Road, Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway and Honeycutt Avenue.

 


A version of this story appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.

The overpass is tentatively scheduled to see the beginning of construction late this year.

Coming in more than $5 million under project estimates, Ames Construction was chosen as the general contractor to build an overpass across the Union Pacific tracks at State Route 347.

Based in Scottsdale, Ames has 750 days to complete the project. Its winning bid was $23.1 million.

The State Transportation Board selected the contractor at its Sept. 15 meeting in Tuba City. Because the bid was 18.5 percent under the department’s estimate of $28.3 million, it was pulled off the consent agenda for a full discussion before its approval.

Mayor Christian Price said a “very tentative” date of Nov. 20 has been scheduled for the formal groundbreaking, but those arrangements are still in flux.

Other companies that bid on the project were Pulice Construction, Haydon Building Corporation, J. Banicki Construction (all in Phoenix and all under the state’s estimate), Coffman Specialties of San Diego, which was about $300,000 over the estimate, and FNF Construction of Tempe, which was almost $1 million over the estimate.

The project will create a six-lane overpass from Hathaway Avenue south to Desert Cedars Drive. It includes the realignment of Honeycutt Road, Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway and Honeycutt Avenue.

ADOT described the work as “constructing bridges, grading, aggregate base and asphaltic concrete, retaining walls, pipe culverts, curb and gutter, raised medians, sidewalks, and fencing. Additional work includes striping, signing, lighting, landscaping, traffic signals, and related work.”

Last year, Ames Construction completed the Hell Canyon Bridge on State Route 89 in Yavapai County. Ames is also working on the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway.

The view north of John Wayne Parkway from Edison Road camera installed by ADOT.

Cameras the Arizona Department of Transportation uses to monitor State Route 347 traffic between the city of Maricopa and Interstate 10 now allow drivers to view conditions themselves via az511.gov.

Nine high-definition cameras mounted on traffic signals are available through the Arizona Traveler Information site, showing intersections from Riggs Road to the north to Farrell Road to the south.

“ADOT is always looking to improve traffic flow and safety,” ADOT traffic engineer Mark Poppe said. “Giving everyone access to the Maricopa cameras allows motorists to see traffic along SR 347 firsthand and make more-informed travel decisions.”

The SR 347 intersections are Riggs Road, Gravel Pit, Casa Blanca Road, Cobblestone North, Edison Road, Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway, Honeycutt Avenue, Alterra Parkway and Farrell Road. The Honeycutt Avenue camera currently shows on the map incorrectly located at Honeycutt Road.

In 2016, ADOT installed a wireless communication system that monitors conditions on SR 347 and allows technicians in Phoenix to adjust signal timing accordingly. The system includes a series of infrared and video cameras, and the latter are now available to the public online.

Besides showing road conditions, traffic cameras are used to quickly spot crashes, allowing first responders to respond faster and allocate appropriate resources. By doing this, secondary crashes are reduced, along with traffic congestion.

ADOT maintains more than 300 traffic cameras across the state.

SR 347 at Casa Blance
SR 347 at gravel pit

Transformation of the Maricopa skyline is beginning its early phases as demolition crews tear down three properties in the Heritage District this week.

First buildings torn down for overpass construction

  • 44600 W. Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway
  • 44302 W. Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway
  • 44617 W. Honeycutt Road

The work located along Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway and Honeycutt Road comes in preparation for construction of the SR 347/Union Pacific Railroad overpass that is slated to begin later this year.

Of the two residential properties on Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway that were demolished, one was a structure used earlier in the year for Maricopa Police Department tactical training.

The third building, an equipment shed on Honeycutt Road, is also in the process of being torn down.

Workers are also removing foundations, fencing and vegetation at demolition sites.

Breinholt Contracting Company Inc. began demolition Wednesday and crews are expected to end the work July 12.

The Arizona Department of Transportation awarded the company $27,900 for the demolition, according to the Arizona State Transportation Board website.

ADOT went out to bid two weeks ago for the $37 million overpass construction, and will open the bids to candidate contractors Aug. 25. The full project, which includes realigning traffic flow on Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway and Honeycutt Road, property purchase and demolition, is estimated to cost $55 million.

ADOT Spokesman Tom Herrmann said overpass construction will begin in the fall.

“It will probably be October that we’ll actually start work on the bridge itself,” Herrmann said, adding the dates of future demolition projects in the Heritage District are yet to be scheduled.

 

A utility company is being blamed for the traffic tie-ups in Maricopa this week.

While Arizona Department of Transportation has been working nights around the intersection of State Route 347 and Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway in preparation for the overpass, some daytime work has caused a logjam for northbound drivers.

Southwest Gas is relocating a gas line in the area, also in preparation for the overpass.

“They received a permit for the work but did not have an approved traffic control plan,” ADOT spokesman Tom Herrmann said. “The city stopped the work until a traffic control plan is approved and the city has a chance to communicate that to the community.”

Northbound SR 347 was narrowed to one lane, though both southbound lanes were open. Even with a new traffic plan, Hermann said there will still likely be traffic issues during the day.

The ongoing closure of Farrell Road at Porter Road further exacerbated the problem, lengthening the alternate routes by several miles.

Mayor Christian Price stated in Facebook postings said the city had “all over” ADOT and SWG, “but again our power is pretty limited when it’s just in their hands and we’re not updated.”

When traffic is congested at SR 347 and MCG Highway and eastbound Farrell is closed, the long alternatives for northbound traffic are to drive south to Peters and Nall Road, east to White and Parker Road, and north to MCG Highway, or to drive west on Farrell Road to Ralston Road, north to State Route 238 and east to John Wayne Parkway.

Photo by Mason Callejas

The Maricopa Police Department conducted a training exercise Wednesday in one of the buildings slated to be demolished to make way for the coming overpass.

The home, formally owned by Rilla Gomez, was purchased by ADOT as part of the SR 347 overpass project and has since been used as a tactical training ground for the MPD.

This is the third time the department has conducted training at the condemned property which Chief Steve Stahl said has provided his officers an opportunity for more hands-on training.

“Very rarely will we do stuff like this,” Stahl said. “But you have to train to push the envelope so you know you’re capable when that time arrives.”

MPD often has an opportunity to train in newly constructed homes, giving officers a chance to learn floorplans and layouts. However, Stahl said, in a new home there are drawbacks to conducting exercises like this.

“You always have to be careful not to break things,” Stahl said. “Here we have the opportunity to press the envelope a little bit more.”

Not being concerned with delicacy, officers were able to train using live training ammunition and real light sound diversionary devices (LSDD), otherwise known as flashbangs.

Arizona Department of Transportation public information officer Tom Herrmann said this will likely be the last training exercise at this property as demolition will likely begin in the next few weeks.

Construction of the SR 347 overpass at the Union-Pacific Railroad crossing is set to begin in the fall.

MPD officers train for dangerous situations in a home set to be demolished in the Heritage District. The house was acquired by ADOT in preparation for construction of the overpass project. ADOT photo

While Lt. Mike Campbell hopes Maricopa Police Department officers never need to enter a home to remove a barricaded suspect, a partnership with the Arizona Department of Transportation has helped them prepare, just in case.

With ADOT preparing to build a bridge carrying State Route 347 over the Union Pacific Railroad, officers have been able to train twice in a house acquired on Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway. The home eventually will be demolished to make way for a new alignment of Plainview Street that will connect Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway to Honeycutt Road and SR 347.

Campbell said the partnership ensures that the department’s Special Response Team has the opportunity to train for potentially life-or-death situations. That included practicing how to enter a home with a dangerous suspect inside, breaking down doors and methodically working their way through the building.

“There are very few opportunities for us to train for these rare but dangerous situations,” Campbell said. “Every time our officers can experience the challenges that come with entering a building in a hostile situation means we can do a better job if this kind of situation arises. This makes our officers better at their jobs and it makes Maricopa a safer place for our residents.”

ADOT photo

ADOT’s training collaborations like the one that took place this month in Maricopa date back to construction of State Route 51 in the early 1990s.

Just last summer, ADOT-acquired properties along the route of the South Mountain Freeway were used to train fire and law enforcement officers from more than a dozen agencies. That included SWAT teams using homes to practice responding to hostage situations and the Phoenix Fire Department, which trained 48 ladder companies and scores of new recruits.

ADOT works side-by-side with emergency responders every day, said Brian Rockwell, ADOT assistant chief right of way agent.

“Police officers willingly put themselves in harm’s way to protect all of us in dangerous situations,” Rockwell said. “When we have the opportunity to help them train, as we did here, we’re not only happy to do that but we consider it part of our service to the community.”

Construction of the SR 347 bridge begins this fall. The two-year, $55 million project will carry traffic over the railroad tracks on a path just east of the current SR 347. It will alleviate congestion on a road that is expected to see traffic double to more than 60,000 vehicles a day by 2040 and save drivers the time of waiting for trains to cross the highway. The area now sees 40-60 trains a day, a number that is expected to reach 100 daily in the next 20 years.

ADOT photo

Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

State Route 347 cannot be shut down during construction, and no property access can be cut off.

Arizona Department of Transportation hosted an informational meeting Wednesday to update residents on the upcoming overpass project. ADOT and consulting firm EPS answered concerns about the project itself and the impact of construction.

The project builds an overpass over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks at State Route 347. Construction is expected to begin in late fall.

Project engineer Elijah Williams, a familiar face at these meetings for years, is president of EPS, which was hired by ADOT to design the overpass. He presented the update to a packed board room at the Maricopa Unified School District.

Williams said EPS will recommend to the construction contractor the timeline for putting the project together. That involves not only the overpass but also new street alignments north and south of the railroad tracks. See ADOT 3D video models

“These bridges, they’re the things that take the longest to build. So they’re going to want to start on those early and not want to get into disrupting traffic for as long as they can avoid it,” Williams said.

Honeycutt Avenue, next to Maricopa High School, will be realigned, connecting with State Route 347 a little farther southeast than its current intersection. More extensively, Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway will be realigned to take traffic north to Honeycutt Road by utilizing a realigned Plainview Street next to MUSD’s district office and transportation department.

A traffic signal will be installed at the intersection of Honeycutt Road and Plainview Street. The traffic signal currently at SR 347 and Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway will be moved to SR 347 and Honeycutt Road.

Part of the current SR 347, where it passes long-time business like Headquarters and NAPA, will remain in place, passing under the new overpass, and become the access to eastbound Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway.

On SR 347 itself, there will be three lanes both directions between Edison Road and the current alignment at Desert Cedars/Alterra Parkway south of the First Baptist Church.

Though endangered in the early designs of the overpass, the church, Amtrak station and NAPA Auto Parts will not have to move.

The project is estimated to cost $55 million. Maricopa’s contribution to that is just short of $14 million. The city approved an intergovernmental agreement with ADOT on Tuesday for the construction of the overpass.

Bob Marsh, a resident of Desert Cedars, said when currently-empty, commercial property south of the tracks is finally developed, new access points may need to be cut into SR 347. Those vacant parcels will be on both sides of the alignment.

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The planned overpass will require the acquisition of private and public property in the Heritage District. ADOT photo

ADOT Makes an Offer

The Arizona Department of Transportation recently submitted offers to city officials to purchase four city-owned properties slated for demolition in preparation for the State Route 347 overpass. With the exception of one small segment of an MUSD parking lot, most city and county-owned properties have been offered between $16 and $18 a square foot, while privately owned properties could receive as little as $9 a square foot. These figures, according to ADOT documents, were the “result of a review and analysis of an appraisal made by a certified real estate appraiser.”

overpass-property-values-graph

The ADOT offers are on the consent agenda at the regular meeting of the Maricopa City Council tonight at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

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The overpass is tentatively scheduled to see the beginning of construction late this year.

The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration

IF YOU GO

What: Informational Meeting about SR 347 Overpass
When: Wednesday, April 5, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. (Presentation will begin at 6 p.m.)
Where:  MUSD Board Room, 44150 W. Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway
Who: The public is invited

(FHWA), invites you to attend a public information meeting about the State Route 347 at Union Pacific Railroad project. The purpose of this meeting is to provide information and gather community input in advance of construction.

ADOT, FHWA and the City of Maricopa completed a study to evaluate alternatives and identify improvements to access, capacity and traffic operations on SR 347 at the Union Pacific Railroad tracks through 2040. The study evaluated a future grade separation (bridge) to replace the existing at-grade intersection of SR 347 and the UPRR track.

A total of 10 alternatives were considered for the project, with three of the 10 alternatives recommended for further evaluation. A public hearing was held on Dec. 3, 2014. Through an extensive evaluation process in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Alternative H was identified as the Selected Alternative. The Final Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) were issued on March 18, 2015.

Alternative H was refined in early 2016 to identify further improvements to access, capacity, and traffic operations. The revisions to Alternative H and the associated impacts to businesses and residences were presented in a public information meeting held July 14, 2016. The revisions to Alternative H initiated the need for an EA Re-evaluation that was completed Dec. 6, 2016.

Final design has been ongoing and is scheduled to be completed summer 2017, with construction tentatively scheduled to begin in late 2017 and continue through late 2019.

The project team will be available to answer individual and property-specific questions at the public information meeting. Maps and displays will also be available for viewing. The meeting is in the board room of the district office of Maricopa Unified School District.

Prior to the public informational meeting, the project website at azdot.gov/347GS will be updated for your review.

For additional information, or to submit comments in writing, please contact ADOT Community Relations Project Manager Julian Avila by calling 602-320-7263, or emailing Javila@azdot.gov, or visit azdot.gov/347GS. If you have questions or comments, email projects@azdot.gov or call the ADOT Project Hotline at 855-712-8530.

Document summarizes comments from summer 2016 outreach

Over the past year, the Arizona Department of Transportation asked the public and agencies to share their ideas, comments and concerns about the Interstate 11 environmental study from Nogales to Wickenburg. A summary of comments is now available and will help ADOT select and evaluate corridor alternatives for further study.

The ultimate I-11 goal is to create a direct interstate link from Tucson and Phoenix metro areas to Las Vegas, Nevada.

Last summer, ADOT and the Federal Highway Administration held a 45-day scoping period as part of the National Environmental Policy Act process. ADOT received hundreds of comments from community members, tribal nations and agency representatives. The full Scoping Summary Report is now available in the Arizona section of i11study.com under the “Reports” tab.

1-11_scoping_map

Comments and other feedback on the I-11 studies from Maricopa officials came in the form of responses to letters of invitation from the Federal Highway Administration  to be involved and in-person conversations during public meetings.

Mayor Christian Price attended a June 8, 2016, ADOT meeting in Casa Grande, at which he emphasized the Pinal County I-11 Coalition. Communities involved have been considering possible route locations as I-11 passes through Pinal County, preferable south of Maricopa but in the city’s planning area.

City Manager Gregory Rose wrote that the I-11 corridor passing through Maricopa’s planning area “would be a tremendous benefit to our residents and property owners.”

Maricopa City Council passed a resolution Sept. 24, 2009, to support that alignment of I-11.

Ak-Chin Indian Community is also an active participant in the planning.

Scoping is an early and important step in the environmental review process. During scoping, the public and agencies have an opportunity to provide input, which helps determine the “scope” or range of issues to be addressed in the environmental document, also referred to as the Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement.

During scoping, ADOT and the Federal Highway Administration hosted three agency meetings and six public meetings in seven locations throughout the corridor study area. Approximately 600 people attended the June 2016 meetings.

ADOT received comments from 74 agencies and tribal governments during the scoping period, and another 834 comments came in from the public. All comments received during the 45-day scoping period are included in the appendices of the Scoping Summary Report.

Agencies provided comments with similar themes about the proposed Interstate 11, including consideration of existing and proposed local and regional transportation plans; the need to study opportunities that foster economic development; and the importance of protecting environmentally sensitive resources. Some agencies stated that they prefer freeway alternatives that build upon and improve existing roadway infrastructure, while others said they favor building an entirely new interstate freeway.

The public had similar comments, along with many others. A majority of the public comments came through an online survey and comment form. Of those 657 responses, community members noted that a new freeway like Interstate 11 could address transportation concerns, such as relieving regional congestion, improving travel time and reliability, improving freight travel and reliability, and reducing bottlenecks on existing freeways. Survey results and other comments can be found within the Scoping Summary Report and on the I-11 blog:  i11study.com/Arizona/blog.asp.

All feedback received during the scoping process is being used by ADOT and the Federal Highway Administration as the two agencies identify potential Interstate 11 alternatives to be studied, impacts to be considered and evaluation methods to be used during the development of the Tier 1 Environmental Impact Statement.

In addition to the formal scoping period, ADOT and the Federal Highway Administration have spent a lot of time during the past year meeting and talking with the public, agencies, local and tribal governments, and partners about the ongoing Interstate 11 environmental study. Each discussion is an opportunity to hear what people have to say about the proposed interstate freeway that would run border-to-border throughout Arizona.

The next round of public involvement opportunities will take place in 2017, when ADOT presents a reasonable range of alternatives to be further studied. An evaluation of a “no-build” alternative, in which Interstate 11 would not be built, will also be considered.

For more information about the Interstate 11 environmental study and to subscribe for updates, visit i11study.com.

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Are you hitting the Arizona highways today? Stay up with the forecast.

The latest National Weather Service forecast for Arizona’s high country calls for between 6 and 12 inches of snow at elevations between 6,000 and 8,000 feet beginning late Saturday morning and continuing into Saturday evening. Windblown snow is expected to create hazardous driving conditions in areas.

For lower elevations, the latest forecast calls for rain and gusting wind during the same period.

ADOT has nearly 200 snowplows and 400 certified snowplow operators ready to clear highways around the state, but if snowfall is heavy and widespread it may take some time for them to reach every stretch.

You hold the keys to safety if your route may have snow and ice. These are just some of the winter-driving tips available at azdot.gov/KnowSnow.

•    Slow down: Adjust your speed to conditions.
•    Create space: Leave extra room between your vehicle and the one in front of you. Avoid sudden braking.
•    Give snowplows room: Slow down and stay at least four vehicle lengths behind a plow. Wait for a plow to pull over before passing, and remember: The safest place to be when there’s snow and ice on a road is behind a plow.
•    Leave prepared: Bring extra clothing and gloves, make sure your tank is half to three-quarters full at all times, keep your cellphone charged and pack extra drinking water, snacks and all necessary medications.
•    Pack an emergency kit: It should include blankets, a flashlight, an ice scraper, a small shovel, a container of sand or cat litter for traction and warning lights or reflectors.
•    Beware of black ice: Melting snow can turn into ice, especially at night. Ice tends to form on bridges first and can be difficult to see.
•    Consider waiting it out: Highways can close suddenly in severe weather due to accumulating snow and ice or due to crashes. If conditions warrant, delaying travel may be the safest decision.

Many of these tips apply to driving on wet roads as well, including waiting out threatening weather if need be. Here are some others:

•    Inspect windshield wipers and replace them if necessary.
•    Turn on headlights while driving.
•    Avoid areas where water is pooling in travel lanes.

Wherever your travels take you this holiday weekend, you can get the latest highway conditions by calling 511 or visiting the Arizona Traveler Information site, where traffic and weather cameras allow you to see current conditions around the state. ADOT’s Facebook and Twitter (@ArizonaDOT) accounts are excellent sources of information and interaction.

On a stretch of Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix, sensors placed along the highway set off an alert: Dust, whipped up by gusting wind, is creating dangerous driving conditions.

Immediately, overhead electronic message boards alert drivers to the threat ahead. Programmable  signs next to the highway show a speed limit reduced from 75 mph to as slow as 35 mph. Closed-circuit cameras allow staff at the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Traffic Operations Center in Phoenix to see the real-time conditions on the roadway, while in-pavement sensors report the speed and flow of traffic.

This month, ADOT engineers are beginning design work to turn that seemingly futuristic vision into reality along a 10-mile stretch of I-10 where dust storms often develop suddenly.

Installation of the state-of-the-art dust-detection system is expected to begin by late next summer between milepost 209 near Eloy and milepost 219 near Picacho Peak, and the system could be in operation by fall 2018 or early 2019.

Sensors placed near the freeway will be able to detect dust as far as a mile or more away. That will give ADOT crews a chance to monitor conditions and alert the public about potentially hazardous situations.

“In addition to providing earlier warnings about blowing dust in an especially troublesome area, this innovative system will advance our understanding of whether similar systems can be effective in other locations around Arizona,” said Brent Cain, director of ADOT’s Transportation Systems Management and Operations Division.

Once the system is in use and evaluated, similar warning systems could be used in other dust-prone areas, including I-10 in both western and southeastern Arizona, and I-40.dust-detection

The system, estimated to cost $12.8 million, will be funded in part by a $54 million federal FASTLANE grant ADOT received for I-10 projects that also include widening and improving two of the three stretches between Phoenix and Tucson that aren’t already three lanes in each direction. Widening those areas and improving interchanges at State Route 87 near Eloy and Jimmie Kerr Boulevard in Casa Grande are scheduled to be completed by winter 2019.

Along with the threat from monsoon storms in the summer and fall, soil conditions in this area are such that strong wind any time of year can suddenly produce localized dust that severely reduces visibility, a phenomenon known as a dust channel.

ADOT’s plan calls for overhead message boards five miles apart in each direction between mileposts 209 and 219. Variable speed limit signs are to be placed every 1,000 feet for the first mile in each direction and then every two miles, allowing ADOT staff to lower the speed of traffic when dust is present. Closed-circuit cameras placed on poles will allow ADOT staff to confirm the latest conditions and traffic flow.

A key part of designing the system will be evaluating and selecting dust sensors. ADOT’s emphasis will be on accuracy, reliability and durability.

With a goal of making travel on I-10 safer and more efficient, ADOT Director John Halikowski and leaders of transportation departments in California, New Mexico and Texas recently created the I-10 Corridor Coalition. Halikowski said adding this detection-and-warning system will help achieve the coalition’s goals not only by saving lives but by reducing delays caused by dust-related crashes.

“While this detection and warning system will be a great step forward, no amount of technology will replace common sense when it comes to driving in adverse conditions such as blowing dust,” Halikowski added.

For additional information on dust storms and safety, including what to do if caught in blowing dust, visit pullasidestayalive.org.

To deter unsafe lane changes that can result in crashes, Arizona Department of Transportation crews will install a series of lane separator posts by this weekend along the westbound U.S. 60 (Superstition Freeway) HOV lane between Kyrene Road and Interstate 10 in Tempe.

 

The white polyurethane posts, also known as lane delineators, are being installed to discourage westbound U.S. 60 drivers using the HOV lane from making sudden lane changes as they approach the I-10 interchange.

 

The installation will require the following overnight restrictions along westbound US 60:

 

Westbound US 60 HOV lane and next left lane closed between Kyrene Road and I-10 from 9 p.m. Thursday to 1 a.m. Friday (Sept. 23). Please be prepared to merge safely and watch for workers and equipment in work zone.

 

Westbound US 60 HOV lane and next left lane closed between Kyrene Road and I-10 from 9 p.m. Friday to 5 a.m. Saturday (Sept. 24). Please be prepared to merge safely and watch for workers and equipment in work zone.

 

Sudden lane changes from the westbound HOV lane have contributed to crashes along this section of US 60 in recent years. While most have been minor, non-injury crashes, some have been serious. The crashes can cause significant delays for drivers on the westbound Superstition Freeway.

 

State highway conditions are available by visiting ADOT’s Travel Information site at az511.gov or by calling 511.

 

Dan Frank

By Dan Frank

As a civil engineer, I work on design, construction and maintenance of the physical and built environment, seeking solutions to solve everyday problems. One priority is our transportation corridors, particularly State Route 347.

If elected, one of my priorities will be working with the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), Pinal County, Gila River Indian Community (GRIC), Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) and others to improve (widen) SR347 for better access to I-10. SR 347, Maricopa’s primary ingress and egress route, will inevitably reach gridlock. The time to begin planning for expansion and improvements is now.

There will assuredly be hurdles, particularly how to pay for a project of this scope? One option is the proposed Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), which would be a voter-approved half-cent sales tax over 20 years to help fund highway projects throughout Pinal County. There are significant challenges with the RTA, including whether it is the best solution or even feasible at this point.

I have spoken with engineers, ADOT representatives, and former City employees about the project. All express serious concerns about viability, with emphasis in three key areas: Geometry, potential increased signalization, and the Gila River Indian Community ROW Agreement.

Geometry – The most logical improvement seems to be adding one additional lane toward the center median to the northbound and southbound lanes. However, ADOT’s Roadway Design Guidelines allow for a median width of 16 feet when a concrete barrier is used. Each additional lane is about 12 feet, and when combined with the median, would require 40 feet. The average existing space is 45 feet, so there is ample room to expand, until you consider left-turn intersections. There is not enough room to provide turn lanes and a safe buffer without compromising traffic flow and safety.

Increased Signalization at Side Roads – There are a total of five access points between Maricopa and Riggs Road.  SR 347’s narrow median and higher speed design could result in additional signals at these intersections. There are three already, and adding more only further reduces traffic flow/efficiency.

GRIC Right-of-Way Agreement – SR 347 crosses the Gila River Indian Community as an easement, not as right-of-way in its traditional sense.  The current agreement allows for two lanes in each direction. Any modification to this agreement would require GRIC approval. This is a vital component of ADOT’s ability to make any improvements on roads that cross GRIC land and any decision will require time, collaboration, communication and cooperation.

Alternatives and Solutions – Being a civil engineer, I’m all about finding alternatives and solutions. The SR 347 improvements are needed, but the main challenge is creating adequate capacity at intersections, particularly Riggs Road. This intersection has a significant amount of vehicular accidents, so one option is to build a grade-separated crossing – a bridge to keep north/southbound traffic moving. The same may need to be done at the I-10 interchange. Grade separations add cost, but they improve traffic flow and mitigate accidents.

My campaign emphasizes “doing things right, but also doing the right things.” I support improving SR 347, but not without continued, focused discussions with GRIC, ADOT, Pinal County and MAG to ensure the project is feasible and fundable. Before we ask the voters to approve a 20-year sales tax increase, let’s make sure we can delivery improved transportation, not another “dead end.”


Dan Frank is a candidate for Maricopa City Council.

Maricopa drivers can expect some major detours in the coming weeks as the Arizona Department of Transportation works on State Route 347 at two intersections.

Expect delays.

See map below

Aug. 5-8, ADOT will improve the roadway surface on SR 347 at the Smith-Enke Road intersection (SR 238). That work begins at 7 p.m. on Friday.

Northbound and southbound traffic will have lane restrictions. Eastbound traffic on SR 238 will be detoured south on Ralston Road and then east on Farrell to connect to SR 347. Westbound vehicles on Smith-Enke will be detoured south on Porter Road and then west on Honeycutt Road to SR 347.

The work is expected to be completed by 3 a.m. Aug. 8.

Beginning Aug. 12 at 7 p.m., ADOT will conduct similar work on SR 347 at the intersection of Edison Road.

Northbound and southbound vehicles will again experience lane restrictions. Eastbound traffic on Edison will be directed south on Wilson Avenue and then east on Hathaway Avenue. Westbound traffic on Edison will instead be sent south on Butterfield Parkway, exiting at Duncan Drive, and then west on Honeycutt Road.

The work is expected to be completed by 3 a.m. Aug. 15.

For more information, call 855-721-8530 or email projects@azdot.gov.

JWP-paving-8-5

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Maricopa resident Derek Chin asks George Froehlich of EPS-Group a question about the plans. Photo by Tyler Loveall

Eager to see what changes have been made to the plan for an overpass across the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, around 200 residents attended a public information meeting July 14.

Click here for the ADOT slideshow presentation.

Hosted by the Arizona Department of Transportation in the board meeting room at Maricopa Unified School District, the meeting provided details on a new alignment.

Just as he did in the last formal public meeting in 2014, consultant Elijah Williams of EPS Group walked attendees through the changes and took questions.

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen a turnout like this at one of these meetings,” he said.

Williams said ADOT tried to respond to earlier concerns expressed about the earlier version, which would have razed the First Baptist Church and forced the Amtrak station to move. The new alignment avoids both of those scenarios.

It also avoids going over the top of the NAPA store, but leaving the building standing may cause even more problems for the owner. Tena Dugan was trying to find options for moving her store, which the old alignment plan would have destroyed. The new alignment wraps around the property.

Now she feels like she’s in limbo again until she can get answers about access.

“They took all that access on the front side. That’s my front door,” she said.

Putting an entry door on another side would be impossible without razing the 50-year-old building.

“I’ve never been against the overpass. This has to be done. I think this makes perfect sense,” she said of the overall concept. “It doesn’t make sense to leave my one building there when they’ve taken all of the side and all of the front.”

The new plan does wipe out the current site of F.O.R. Maricopa, the local food bank, something Wendy Webb saw in the cards. She has already been looking for a new location.

The new alignment changes the intersection with Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway. What the old plan had essentially made a one-way, southbound exit that looped under the overpass is now a two-way road. It provides access to businesses on the west side of SR 347, though northbound traffic will apparently have to make a U-turn at Hathaway Avenue to reach such businesses as The New HQ.

Because the road is now two-way under the overpass, another dramatic change in the plan is the realignment of traffic flow from MCG Highway. The traffic will still use a new road next to MUSD to reach Honeycutt Road and then turn west to access the overpass. That road, however, will cut through the lawn portion of Rotary Park while avoiding the pool.

Access off of MCG to Pershing Street or to the Amtrak station will be as it is now.

Unless they use Bowling Road, residents who live south of the railroad tracks and wish to access MCG Highway must exit on Honeycutt Road and then turn back south on the new road.

Public comments are being sought through Aug. 15. Comments may be mailed to c/o SR 347, 1655 W. Jackson, #126F, Phoenix AZ 85007, or emailed to SR347@azdot.gov. Call with your comments at 855-712-8530.

ADOT and EPS personnel gather to answer specific questions from residents. Photo by Tyler Loveall
ADOT and EPS personnel gather to answer specific questions from residents. Photo by Tyler Loveall

Rendering of model ADOT is using as a guide for engineers designing the overpass on SR 347 over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks.

Meeting Friday in Holbrook, the State Transportation Board voted to adopt the Arizona Department of Transportation’s 2017-2021 Five-Year Transportation Facilities Construction Program.

On the plan, a long-sought railroad overpass on State Route 347 in Maricopa will move forward thanks to a $15 million federal TIGER grant and $15 million local contribution in addition to ADOT’s $19 million commitment.

The project’s goal is to alleviate traffic backups at the Union Pacific Railroad crossing by replacing the existing at-grade intersection with a grade separation. Construction is planned to start in fiscal year 2017.

For Mayor Christian Price, the vote was a “Phew!” moment. He has been attending Transportation Board meetings for months to keep the project at the forefront of members’ minds. He was in Holbrook Friday for the vote.

“I’m excited,” Price said. “It’s been 13 years of work. That’s how you put teamwork together.”

Though various ADOT and city officials have hedged on the start date for construction, Price said ground would have to be broken sometime in 2017 because of the time mandates of the TIGER grant. And construction is not the beginning of the project. A plan for redirecting traffic from Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway and city streets in the Heritage District is an important element.

“We have to start getting right of way and moving things around first,” Price said.

Because of additional funding available through the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, ADOT will be able to move forward on a quicker timeline with four major projects that will improve key commerce corridors: widening Interstate 10 in Pinal County from State Route 87 to Picacho and from Earley Road to Interstate 8, and widening two stretches of US 93 between Wickenburg and Interstate 40.

“Major freight corridors that connect Arizona to Mexico and large neighboring U.S. markets will benefit from key expansion projects in this Five-Year Program,” ADOT Director John Halikowski said. “Improvement projects along some of Arizona’s busiest corridors will not only provide better mobility but help enhance trade, commerce and economic development.”

Once the two I-10 projects are complete, ADOT will have reached its goal of widening the entire stretch of I-10 between Casa Grande and Tucson to a six-lane divided highway.

Other projects programmed for funding include improving State Route 189 in Nogales to enhance the flow of commerce between the port of entry and Interstate 19.

The program approved Friday meets the agency’s goal of $260 million per year dedicated to preservation.

The State Transportation Board’s approval of the Five-Year Program, which is updated annually, followed a call for public comment in March and three public hearings. In general, projects begin as part of the agency’s long-range visioning process, move into a 20-year plan and a six- to 10-year development program and then become part of the Five-Year Program, which is developed by working closely with local planning organizations and community leaders to identify projects that are ready to build or design.

Funding for the Five-Year Program is generated by the users of transportation services, primarily through gasoline and diesel fuel taxes and the vehicle license tax. Both the Maricopa and Pima county regions have independent revenue streams established through voter-approved sales tax increases that allow for more expansion projects to take place.

 

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Photo by Michael Barnes

By Ethan McSweeney

The Maricopa City Council approved an agreement with the Arizona Department of Transportation on Tuesday for the design of the planned State Route 347 overpass.

Under the terms of the agreement, the city will pay the Department of Transportation $525,700 toward the design of the overpass, which will span the Union Pacific Railroad tracks that cut through Maricopa. The city would be responsible for about 21 percent of costs that exceed the initial estimate with the rest of the costs falling on the state, according to the agreement.

The funds from Maricopa for the project will come out of the city’s Highway User Revenue Fund rather than Development Impact Fee (DIF) funds. After a brief discussion at the Tuesday night meeting, the present City Council members unanimously approved the terms, known as an intergovernmental agreement (IGA).

The wording in the agreement allows Maricopa to use DIF funds if city staff can find those funds.

“If DIF is available to fund this project, then that is the one we would pursue,” City Manager Gregory Rose said. “We would take as much as we can from DIF funds because they are so restricted.”

“HURF gives us a broader use, and so if you had to pick, you would want to pick something you know is a transportation-related project within the scope of DIF, that’s what you want to draw it from first,” Mayor Christian Price said. “But if you can keep HURF in reserve, that allows you the option of using HURF for other transportation projects that aren’t so strictly located as DIF is.”

Last year, the Department of Transportation placed the State Route 347 overpass in its Five-Year Program with hopes to finish the project by 2020.

The project will cost about $55 million to complete, according to ADOT, with the city of Maricopa contributing about $8 million, which will be spent in increments over the next few years.

The overpass is intended to ease traffic backups that occur on State Route 347 in Maricopa at the railroad crossing, according to ADOT.

Crashes also increased, annual ADOT summary shows

Motor vehicle crashes on local roads and highways across the state claimed the lives of 895 people in 2015. That is 121 more than the year before, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation’s annual Motor Vehicle Crash Facts report.

The statistical report summing up data provided by law enforcement agencies provides some sobering information about motor vehicle crashes last year, including the 15.6 percent increase in fatalities, compared to 774 deaths that occurred in 2014. The highest annual number of motor vehicle crash fatalities in Arizona – 1,301 – occurred in 2006.

Report highlights:

• 313 of those killed last year weren’t using a seat belt, child safety device or helmet, which represents a 17.7 percent increase from 2014.
• 300 of those killed were involved in crashes related to exceeding the speed limit or driving too fast for conditions, a 25.5 percent increase from 2014.
• 295 of those killed were involved in alcohol-related crashes, a 9.7 percent increase from 2014.

“One death will always be too many, and there are things all drivers can do to reduce the number of crash deaths, starting with buckling up, obeying speed limits and reducing speed when conditions warrant,” ADOT Director John Halikowski said.

“When you are behind the wheel, job No. 1 is driving – not looking at your phone, not reading, not personal grooming, not anything that takes your attention away from the road. It is dangerous and disrespectful for everyone sharing the road with you. Just drive,” Halikowski said.

Total crashes in the state rose to 116,609 in 2015 from 109,664 the year before. Total injuries rose as well, with 53,554 in 2015 compared to 50,988 in 2014.

After falling every year since 2011, alcohol-related crashes rose slightly to 4,941 in 2015 from 4,906 the year before, while the number of people killed in alcohol-related crashes rose to 295 last year from 269 in 2014. According to the Crash Facts report, 16.2 percent of drivers in fatal crashes last year had been drinking, while 4.8 percent of drivers in fatal crashes appeared to be under the influence of drugs.

“It’s tragic and frustrating to see increases in fatalities involving impaired driving,” said Alberto Gutier, director of the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. “We’ll never stop efforts to get people to do the right thing, including arranging for a designated driver. And we’ll fully back law enforcement and their dedication to getting impaired drivers off the road.”

Speed and aggressive driving remained key factors contributing to crashes, with 17 percent of drivers in fatal crashes going too fast for conditions or exceeding the speed limit. The report also shows 38 percent of motorcycle operators involved in fatal crashes were going too fast for conditions or exceeding the speed limit.

“Without a doubt, the number of crash fatalities would be dramatically reduced if more drivers would slow down and obey speed limits,” said Col. Frank Milstead, director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety. “Our troopers are focused on stopping aggressive speeders. Changing bad driving behaviors is a key to highway safety.”

Motorcycle fatalities in Arizona rose to 134 in 2015 from 128 the year before. Twenty-nine bicyclists died in crashes during 2015, the same number as the year before, though the number of crashes involving bicycles fell to 1,434 last year from 1,744 in 2014.

Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services, also noted the increase in the number of fatalities involving people who weren’t using seat belts or other safety devices, which rose from 266 in 2014 to 313 last year.

“Accidents happen when we least expect it,” she said. “These numbers show how important it is to make sure you and all your passengers are buckled in properly to reduce the risk of serious injury or worse.”

The number of pedestrians killed in crashes rose to 161 in 2015 from 155 the year before, though crashes involving pedestrians declined to 1,399 from 1,565 in 2014.

Here are other figures from the 2015 Arizona Motor Vehicle Crash Facts report:
•         One person was killed in a motor vehicle crash every 9.79 hours.
•         471 fatalities occurred in urban areas and 424 deaths occurred in rural areas.
•         Of all alcohol-related crashes, 77.9 percent occurred in urban areas and 22.1 percent in rural areas.
•         Among fatal crashes related to alcohol, 56.4 percent occurred in urban areas and 43.6 occurred in rural areas.
•         Nearly three-quarters of all crashes occurred during daylight hours.
•         Friday was the peak day of the week for all crashes during 2015 with 19,971, while the most fatal crashes – 154 – occurred on Saturdays.
•         Thanksgiving was the deadliest holiday weekend last year, with 16 motor-vehicle fatalities.
•         Motor vehicle crashes resulted in $3.82 billion in economic losses for Arizona last year.

The ADOT 2015 Arizona Motor Vehicle Crash Facts report is available at azdot.gov/CrashFacts.

ADOT workers prepare to construct an overpass on Bell Road at Grand Avenue (U.S. 60) in Surprise, a project that has some similarities to plans for an overpass in Maricopa. ADOT photo

In March, when officials with the Arizona Department of Transportation started calling Maricopans who own land that is possibly in the path of the upcoming overpass, the message was different than it had been in previous contacts.

“They told me I had 12 months to be out of here,” said Tena Dugan, owner of NAPA Auto Parts on the corner of John Wayne Parkway and Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway.

But a new approach by engineers may change that, too.

Dugan said the earlier understanding was that she would have 18-months’ warning. However, a sense of expediency became part of the project when it landed a federal TIGER grant of $15 million.

“The TIGER grant is the only funding with a deadline attached,” Public Works Director Bill Fay said. He clarified the deadline attached to the grant pertains to signing a construction contract, not completion of the project.

Fay said while ADOT is basing its ongoing design work off Alternative H, there are engineering modifications being considered that could lower the cost, which is estimated at almost $50 million.

On top of that, designers are also trying to avoid as many homes and businesses as possible – even NAPA, which has always been the one business discussed as irretrievably in the way of the overpass.

“They are working to try to get people back out of that situation,” Fay said.

But Dugan’s message from ADOT was to find a new location for the business by April 1, 2017.  With luck, she could get a 30-day extension.

“I told them 12 months is not doable in this town,” Dugan said. Because Maricopa is so young, “there is not another building to go into.”

ADOT photo
ADOT photo

ADOT is only at 15 percent design but is working on a concept that would also avoid the First Baptist Church, which Alternative H would destroy, though the new plan would impact its access. And the Amtrak station, which caused much of the overpass discussion in the first place, may not have to be moved at all.

“They are making a major effort not to relocate Amtrak,” Fay said. “It’s theoretically possible not to have to move it. For the sake of this project, I don’t think there’s a reason to move it.”

ADOT plans public meetings about the overpass in August and April to gather feedback on the most current concept for the overpass, according to ADOT spokesman Steve Elliott.

“Local input can help shape the project’s final design,” he said.

After the final design is developed, ADOT will determine any right-of-way needs. That process is expected to be complete by June 30, 2017.

“The project is currently scheduled to be advertised for bid in fall 2017,” Elliott said. “Right now, construction is scheduled to begin by late 2017 and end by late 2019.”

However, Fay’s estimate for completion is 2021 or 2022.

Maricopans wanting to see how a similar project is handled can look to an overpass ADOT is currently constructing on Bell Road over Grand Avenue and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks in Surprise. That project includes a full closure of the road for six to eight months. Road closure is not part of the plan in Maricopa. Elliott said the project team must still finalize a plan for accommodating traffic.

“As we have for Bell/Grand and other projects, ADOT will work with business owners to maintain access,” he said.

The Bell/Grand project has had its share of discontent among affected businesses, and there was even a late effort from some community members to stop it altogether.

That is not on Dugan’s mind, but she said she has hired an attorney. “I’m not trying to stop it or make a bunch of money off of it,” she said. “We’ve known since the beginning we were in the middle of it.”

She said she wants to be sure of her rights as an owner. “It would be good to have some peace of mind,” Dugan said.


This story appeared in the May issue of InMaricopa.