A crash Jan. 29 at the Casa Blanca intersection with State Route 347 during morning rush hour backed up traffic into Maricopa along John Wayne Parkway and its arterial streets.
The situation is not as uncommon as residents would like. Any improvement to the experience of driving on SR 347 is in demand.
One possible solution would have voters raising their own taxes for a Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) that could add lanes to the highway.
“Most likely, the question will be put before voters on the November ballot,” County Supervisor Anthony Smith said. “If it’s approved by the voters, then new transportation projects across the whole county will be funded by that half-cent sales tax, which accumulates a total revenue of about $640 million.”
Because governments cannot base plans on the unknown opinion of the public, the possible RTA and its implications for SR 347 are not part of the Maricopa General Plan. Other transportation proposals are included in that vision, however.
Anita Cecini of Tortosa said future plans of an Interstate 11 from Nevada to Nogales were fine for Maricopans wanting to go to Las Vegas but do nothing to relieve the stress of traveling to Chandler.
“This does not help,” she said, looking at transportation display boards at one of the city’s four open house events on the General Plan in January.
The sessions were meant to gather public feedback as the city prepared to present the draft plan to its various advisory committees. It shows the scope of 2040 Vision and what city zoning and transportation could look like at build-out in 25 years. It also showed the five-year plan that includes an overpass on John Wayne Parkway at the railroad tracks.
Resident Dana Jennings said the presentations looked like the city was expecting population growth without taking care of the SR 347 issue.
But Pinal County’s proposed RTA includes two projects in the Maricopa area. One of those projects would widen SR 347 to six lanes.
“If that information was promoted here, it would alleviate a lot of people’s questions about why are we blowing everything up,” Jennings said of the General Plan’s growth calculations.
“There’s going to be a lot of publicity on the RTA because we know there is going to be a vote anytime we try to increase taxes,” Maricopa Transportation Manager David Maestas said.
Smith said more information on the RTA would be presented in the spring and summer. He said he expects supervisors to vote on whether to place it on the November ballot during their sessions in June or July.
If approved, SR 347 is the first major project on the RTA list, with design starting in 2017 and construction completed by 2020, he said. 2020 is also the year targeted for the construction of the overpass.
The RTA would provide $28.8 million to make SR 347 six lanes from Maricopa to I-10. That does not necessarily involve widening the existing road bed. SR 347 runs through land belonging to the Gila River Indian Community, and only a certain width is allocated. But the existing four lanes with median do have enough room for six lanes if designers are creative, Smith said.
Anita Cecini’s sister Liz Cecini, a former planner, said information about a possible RTA should be top-most in the city’s discussions with the public about transportation planning. She grilled city staff and committee members on the General Plan process.
“What does success look like?” she asked repeatedly. “It’s good that that’s 2040, and this is the five-year plan, but I want to know what’s in between.”
Maricopa Zoning Administrator Kazi Haque said staff will report public feedback on the General Plan to the city council. How it is processed, he said, will depend on the council’s priorities.
Frequently appearing on priority lists is the creation of a leg of I-11 through Pinal County. That possibility shows up on General Plan maps. It is also the second Maricopa-area project on the potential RTA list.
The RTA would allocate $4.8 million by 2024 to acquire right of way for either a leg of I-11 or another high-capacity parkway south of Maricopa.
Discussions of an RTA sales tax came about because state and federal money was slow in coming to help Pinal County’s transportation problems.
In the past 15 years, Smith said, Pinal County doubled in population and Maricopa grew 4,000 percent, but residents are still using the pre-boom roads.
“We know from studies that in 2017, SR 347 will begin experiencing gridlock,” he said. (That is expected to be full gridlock sometime between 2020 and 2024.) “So we’ve got to get ahead of the curve. Otherwise we’re going to be suffering some serious quality-of-life issues here in the city of Maricopa.”
This story appeared in the February issue of InMaricopa News.