Drivers might not necessarily get non-stop service from one end of Maricopa to the other, but Mayor Nancy Smith said she has experienced firsthand how traffic lights on State Route 347 need to be synchronized – and she plans to do what she can to make that happen.
“It’s interesting that you bring that up because coming from the (rural transportation) summit, which was held down at Harrah’s two days in a row, I noticed that I was stopped at the traffic lights between Harrah’s and just over the bridge every single time,” Smith said. “Then from that point on, they were all in sync and I moved smoothly.
“What I took away from that was: How do we make it one smooth ride? It does need to work smoother, so I’m going to see if there is anything that can be done.”
Smith made her comments Friday shortly after the Arizona State Transportation Board voted unanimously to officially turn over control of SR 347 and SR 238 within city limits to Maricopa.
The city gets:
- Local control and a sense of urgency over the permit process for access or widening.
- Ability to determine access points, where appropriate, and design appropriately for the city, including determining whether roundabouts are the proper solution to mitigate traffic issues.
- Ability to designate where traffic signals are placed, and to have control of signals, including timing.
- Control of design standards, allowing the city to establish standards higher than those of Arizona Department of Transportation in landscaped medians as well as decorative, powder-coated light poles and other aesthetic elements.
Perhaps the greatest of those is gaining control of access for developments and businesses.
“Our biggest desire is to be able to work with new businesses that need in-and-out access on the 347 and 238,” Smith said. “We weren’t able to get that (when it was controlled by ADOT) because they’re so busy and so overwhelmed. Now that we have that control, it makes it so much easier for us to complete deals.
“I posted a chart (of ADOT processes) from the transportation summit and you look at that and you go, ‘Now I know the challenges.’ The process is really detailed. So it’s amazing we get anything done, but they do have a heart for getting things done, and they do have a heart for sharing the wealth across the state. I saw 11 areas in the state where they need projects, and you wonder: How do we fund all of these?”
Maricopa’s takeover applies only to those sections of the state highways within city limits and does not apply to the segment of SR 347 from Interstate 10 to city limits that runs largely through the Gila River Indian Reservation.
“The city will continue to work with ADOT, its tribal partners, and all other appropriate jurisdictions to design a solution that adds additional capacity on SR 347 between Maricopa and I-10,” Maricopa spokesman Quinn Konold said.
ADOT will remain responsible for the planned widening of SR 347 north of Smith Enke Road to the city limits, which is undergoing engineering design and is planned for construction next year. That stretch will then be given to Maricopa, too.
Continuing requests for action on SR 347
Speaker after speaker paraded to the podium at the Transportation Board meeting Friday in Maricopa City Council chambers to push for expedited action on proposed widening of SR 347 to I-10 and a Riggs Road overpass to eliminate a traffic signal where backups can stretch miles during rush hours.
Pinal County voters can take a substantial step forward on those plans if they pass Proposition 469 in November, a half-cent sales tax to go toward transportation, including roads.
There currently is enough money available to build the overpass, but the project to add a lane of traffic each way on the 16-mile stretch would cost $400 million to $500 million, according to Smith.
“So it’s huge,” she said. “A portion of that would come from 469 if it passes. We could get a portion hopefully from either or both of the tribes (Gila River and Ak Chin) because they both benefit from it. State transportation could fund a piece. Maybe even the state itself and also federal money.
“Hopefully all of that coming together will make it happen, but it doesn’t have to happen all at once. It could happen in phases.”
Smith pointed out the Riggs overpass is in design phase now and could head into construction as soon as late 2023.
“It’s hard to say what the full timeline could be because we also need the Proposition 400 extension from Maricopa County to pass, as well,” she said.
While there are no current plans to also build an overpass at Casa Blanca Road on SR 347, Smith said that “there are ways to construct it so that we don’t have to stop at that intersection any longer.”
John S. Halikowski, in his 13th year as ADOT director, said widening SR 347 realistically is still three to five years away.
“That’s a little bit difficult to answer right now because we do not know what the fate of Proposition 469 is,” Halikowski said. “The other issue is working with the number of other government entities involved, whether it’s tribal, state, county, city. We all have to work together to take a look at this. Before any project gets started, if folks are all in agreement we have a lot of environmental work to do. It’s a process.”
Halikowski acknowledges that Pinal County’s major arteries have not kept pace with growth, which is projected to continue exponentially over the next decade.
“We have a 20-year, long-range transportation plan that we work on,” he said. “If development or commercial industry move into a region, they often help with the road system. What we’re always striving for is government entities to work together to bring in development with us so we can put in the adequate road systems that are needed for people’s safety.’
For Maricopa City Councilman Rich Vitiello, that can’t be soon enough.
Vitiello choked up at the podium as he shared with the Transportation Board the story of a friend who was involved in an accident on SR 347, who remains in a coma after several years. Vitiello made an impassioned, emotional plea to widen the highway and make it safer.
“I’ve lived in the city for 17 years now. We appreciate what you do. It’s a very difficult job,” Vitiello said. “But this is very personal to me. His family relies on donations. He was a correction officer in the city of Maricopa.
“It tugs on my heart to have to come stand here time after time and literally ask you for funds, not only for him but for the 30,000 people who drive out there every single day. So please, let’s do what it takes to save lives, and for the many other lives that are gone, because we just can’t get the funding. Please, let’s dig deep for the people who have died on this road because you can’t come up with the funding. It’s hard to give what you don’t have, but this is life-threatening. See what you can do, guys.”