As a freight train blasted its horn and rumbled under the new overpass, people standing above whooped in victory.
Vice Mayor Henry Wade put it into words: “You ain’t the boss of me no more.”
The City of Maricopa put together a ceremony Saturday with a ribbon-cutting atop the State Route 347 overpass ahead of the actual opening of the bridge to traffic planned for Monday at 5 a.m. Budgeted for $55 million, the overpass was given state funding in 2014. The City of Maricopa is paying $15 million, and so is the federal government (through a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant).
The official groundbreaking was Nov. 20, 2017.
With traffic bottle-necked and even stopped dead at the junction of SR 347 and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, the idea of an overpass had been floated before incorporation. The long stops of Amtrak trains and increasingly frequent appearances of freight trains have delayed years of Maricopa drivers.
Mayor Christian Price noted the amount of time it took to get funding for the project long before construction began. “You can say that we need something all day long,” Mayor Christian Price said. “We know the 347 has its challenges. I’ve been working on that for six and a half years, and it’s going to take another six and a half years. But, you know what? If you don’t start working on it now, when it gets to be a real problem – I mean a real problem – you won’t be ready for it.”
Former mayor and former chairman of the State Transportation Board Kelly Anderson worked on making an overpass a reality since he was mayor. He said the opening of the overpass was surreal.
“I don’t have a feeling because I’m numb,” he said.
On the State Transportation Board, he said he learned the compromises and negotiations necessary to get projects done, including getting an overpass over the UP tracks in the middle of Maricopa.
“There’s an ADOT saying now. It’s the ‘Maricopa model,’” Anderson said. “You bring your own money to the model to get something done, and that’s what we did here.”
Along with elected officials, city staff and invited guests, Saturday’s event drew several residents on foot, on bicycles and on scooters, despite the heat reaching over 110 degrees.
“We’ve been excited for the overpass to happen and figured we’d come up to see it,” said Steven Chaston, a Villages resident. “To be perfectly honest, we’re not going to use it much, but we’re really glad it’s here.”
Janee Jackson said the overpass was part of the big improvements that are creating a “new Maricopa.”
“It’s cool because I really don’t want to be here for the train anymore,” said Ridge Rieman, who was with his family on bicycles crossing the bridge.
Thirteen-year-old Eturnitie Henderson agreed. “People have to go to work in the morning and sometimes they get stopped by the train and that causes stress and everything. So, it’s good they have this now.”
She was there as part of Library Initiative for Teens (LIFT). Along with the Maricopa High School Marching Rams and the MHS Air Force Junior ROTC, LIFT involved teenagers in the community event.
Micah Hannam, an ADOT engineer who became a familiar face at public meetings during the design process, reminded everyone the work is not done.
“This is a momentous thing for the community. I’ve only been down here about two years, and already I understand how big of a deal this overpass is,” he said. “There’s still several more months of construction going on. So, with all the traffic changes, please drive safely, drive carefully and enjoy the new overpass.”
Karla Petty of the Federal Highway Administration talked in even more detail about driving habits. “You’re going to want to just use it as a raceway. Please don’t. Be patient. Make the roadway safe, buckle up and be attentive.”
Chris Kane of Ames Construction said the overpass would have “an immediate, long-lasting, positive effect upon the community. You’ve got to be grateful any time you can be a part of something like that.”