Frank: County plan for SR 347 needs a closer look before election

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.