It is no secret that Maricopa residents aren’t left with many choices when commuting to and from work in the Valley.
State Route 347, the main entrance into the city, spawns frustration behind the wheel. Whether it is a lengthy traffic backup during rush hour, or being blown off the road by those going 80 mph in a 65 zone at other times, or another crash that takes a life and halts traffic, it is daunting.
The Arizona Department of Public Safety seems to have gotten the message. During the past two weeks, Highway Patrol troopers on motorcycles, in unmarked patrol cars and in marked SUV cruisers have been seen pulling over scofflaw motorists – this after weeks of no visible DPS traffic enforcement on the road.
And on Interstate 10 in the Southeast Valley, where Maricopa commuters connect to continue toward the Valley, officers have been seen recently pulling over tractor-trailer rigs, evidently targeting their violations in the wake of a fiery Jan. 12 quintuple-fatal crash involving big rigs near Chandler Boulevard that shut down the freeway for hours.
Bart Graves, media-relations specialist with ADOT, confirmed the Highway Patrol Division has added enforcement special details to State Route 347, targeting hazardous violations by drivers of all vehicle types.
In a City Council meeting on Feb. 7, Mayor Nancy Smith addressed these concerns and outlined stricter traffic regulation she’d like to see to improve safety on the SR347.
The city has no enforcement power on the highway beyond city limits, but it regularly makes suggestions to state agencies that do have control of it.
“Transportation is a huge priority for me,” Smith said. “And as a mayor, it is my number one priority.”
Smith regularly attends ADOT state transportation board meetings on behalf of Maricopa transportation interests. This past month, she visited Sierra Vista for a state meeting to discuss getting improvements on SR347, notably more lanes and mitigating traffic signals between the city and I-10, onto the ADOT five-year construction plan.
Although it is a challenge to figure out the process, Smith said, she is dedicated to finding a solution for widening the 347.
“I’m there each and every time — either online or in person — and it’s important to me,” Smith said. “We’re going to figure out how to get the funding necessary.”
In the meantime, Smith asked ADOT and DPS one question: “What is the low-hanging fruit for safety on the 347?”
“We know we need widening, we know we need projects, we’re looking for the funding, but what is the low-hanging fruit?” Smith asked.
She explained that 76% of Maricopa families use the 347 for daily work-related transportation.
“That’s the potential for 76% of our families to be stuck on our road, instead of home with their families,” Smith said.
Smith proposed stricter traffic laws on the highway and she asked DPS to patrol, stop and ticket serious violators. Although this may create some anger among those cited, most drivers are going to be excited, she predicted.
Smith warns SR347 drivers of Highway Patrol motorcycles, unmarked and marked vehicles patrolling the road.
“We have to do something to save our people and stop the accidents that are happening,” Smith said.