‘Come hell or high water:’ Despite defeat of Prop. 469, Martinez leads ongoing efforts to widen SR 347

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District 16 Rep. Teresa Martinez carries torch for State Route 347 widening. [Bryan Mordt]

Proposition 469 to improve transportation, most notably roads, across Pinal County was defeated in the General Election.

Still, processes are moving forward that could result in the widening of State Route 347 from Maricopa’s northern city limits to Interstate 10 to reduce traffic jams and fatal crashes.

Arizona Department of Transportation this week posted a Request for Qualification for a design and engineering study to widen 13 miles of SR 347. The study, to be funded from an appropriation secured this year by District 16 Rep. Teresa Martinez, a Republican, would take until roughly mid-2024.

By that time, both Martinez and Maricopa Mayor Nancy Smith are hopeful funding will be in place for project construction – either by another measure put to voters or through the Legislature.

With a design study completed when construction funding is secured, work could begin almost immediately.

“The 347 is going to get done come hell or high water,” said Martinez, who quickly became GOP House whip.

Mayor Nancy Smith and City Council continue to partner to get State Route 347 widened. [Bryan Mordt]
The project would add an additional inside lane to northbound and southbound travel and a median barrier, as well as widen three at-grade intersections and six bridges.

Statements of qualifications are due from design firms by Dec. 13. The length of the design project is estimated to be approximately 18 months, meaning all engineering work is expected to be completed by summer 2024. Bids for construction would then take place following design completion.

Smith pointed out that funding for a design study is separate from construction funding, which would have been raised had Prop. 469 carried. The widening project cannot be placed on the ADOT 5-year plan until it has funding.

“I’ve seen comments on Facebook that, ‘Oh, so we didn’t even need the 469 money.’ No, this is entirely different,” Smith said. “We’ve known for several months this money was there to have the study funded for design. We still need money for construction. That’s what we would have gotten from 469.”

Smith and Ben Bitter, Maricopa deputy city manager and chief product officer, pointed out that because the stretch of SR 347 is outside the city limits, the city has no direct jurisdiction. It would be a support partner in obtaining funding, either through another proposition or from the Legislature.

“I would just say that the cost of road improvements continue to go up in cost,” Bitter said. “ADOT recently released their construction-cost index, and since 2016, construction costs have gone up 210 percent. So, you get an idea where we stand trying to determine how to pay for these projects. It’s tough, complicated.”

Southbound traffic piles up along State Route 347.

Bitter said the city will continue to be a coordinating agency and ensure that its voice is heard by design consultants and the ADOT design team.

“We’ll be involved every step of the way,” Bitter said.

Martinez said she will ensure that.

“I take my cue from the mayor and City Council on this project,” Martinez said. “It’s a football team. I am going to work with them so it’s one plan. This is about what Maricopa needs and I’m here to get that. State Route 347 is their No. 1, so it is my No, 1. Constituents made it loud and clear.”

Prop. 469 carried with 63 percent in Maricopa but was torpedoed by other locations in Pinal County, including Casa Grande and Apache Junction.

“So, we do the 347 and they’re going to look at me and say, ‘Why didn’t you fix the road from Maricopa to Casa Grande, as well? And State Route 87? What about roads in Hidden Valley? Thunderbird Farms?’ That’s what they’re missing because 469 failed,” Martinez said. “I’m going after the 347.”

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STATE ROUTE 347 WIDENING PROJECT DESIGN AND ENGINEERING DETAILS

  • 13.4 miles of mainline widening, adding one inside lane in each direction.
  • Adding median barrier.
  • Three at-grade intersections.
  • Six bridge widenings.
  • No retaining walls except bridge wing walls.
  • No sound walls.
  • Erosion control (at intersections only).
  • Complete all necessary environmental investigations and associated documentation.
  • Perform all geotechnical services and prepare geotechnical report.
  • Prepare and share the conceptual design with ADOT to ensure that all parties support project and ensure that all details for required elements are identified and understood how they will be integrated.
  • Confirm right-of-way and easement needs and assist with securing all necessary agreements and permits. ADOT will prepare the right-of-way plans and acquire all right-of-way for the project.
  • Perform supplemental surveys as needed for design of proposed bridge.
  • Finalize technical specifications, quantity computations, cost estimates and related construction documents.

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Martinez got a $19 million appropriation from surplus state funds this year that will go toward SR 347 widening. She anticipates that another state surplus in the coming year will yield another appropriation. She’s also going after tax money collected from a Pinal County half-cent sales tax before the Arizona Supreme Court ruled the funding mechanism unlawful. Nearly $87 million from that is being held in escrow by the Arizona Department of Revenue. The county Regional Transportation Authority, shortly before the General Election, proposed returning the money to firms that collected it. They then would have the option to keep it and pay a tax on it, or donate it to a nonprofit charitable entity created for it, with no taxation to the donor. The nonprofit then would put the money in the hands of the RTA so it could be used for the reason it initially was collected: roads.

Despite that, Martinez said she is in the process of writing more-specific legislation to ensure that money stays in Pinal County rather that in the out-of-state headquarters of a big corporation that might have collected the tax in the county.

Funding already is in place for a proposed SR 347-Riggs Road overpass. Design work is about to begin on that.

Maricopa County would help fund a new diverging-diamond interchange at Interstate 10 and State Route 347, and Maricopa County also would be on the hook for the stretch of SR 347 from I-10 to the Pinal County line near Riggs Road.

So, what still needs to be funded is widening the highway from the Maricopa County line to the Maricopa city limit.

“We have some funds now available for that, and I’m going to go after the additional money to widen the 347 from El Dorado to Wild Horse Pass,” Martinez said. “I’m going to go for all of it, for the whole enchilada. I know that sounds aggressive, but I’m already the majority whip. If I set my mind to it, we are going to do everything and get that money to widen that 347. That’s my No. 1 priority.”