Open House details Maricopa’s two critical, major traffic-engineering projects

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Maricopa is facing the most critical traffic-engineering project in its history. The city must decide whether to make the Union Pacific-SR 347 grade separation an overpass or an underpass, and, more importantly, how to fund this major project. The intersection of SR 437 and the Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway will undoubtedly be realigned to accommodate the grade separation. The Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway itself is a second major project for Maricopa. That busy corridor needs updating as its traffic volume increases.

Last week’s “Let’s Talk About Traffic” Open House, hosted by Transportation Director Brent Billingsley and City Engineer Karen Wonders, provided some general information as well as specific details on each of these major projects. Residents were able to ask questions and were urged to fill out comment cards.

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The Transportation Open House drew a crowd of about 80 residents on a warm night.

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City Councilman Kelly Haddad signs in.

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Transportation Director Brent Billingsley introduces the consultants for the presentation portion of the open house.

SR 347-Union Pacific Railway Grade Separation Project
HDR Engineering, a consulting firm, has been hired by the city to complete the feasibility study on the grade separation. Chet Teaford, representing HDR, told the approximately 80 residents in attendance, “The city is working hard to keep up with traffic needs.” He noted that the anticipated population of Maricopa by 2020 will be about 179,000 people or 64,000 homes. That figure translates into 20,000 vehicles per day at the SR 347- Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway intersection now and double that figure by 2020.

“Currently 60 trains come through Maricopa each day,” stated Teaford. “By 2013 there will be 80 trains per day with double tracks.” Some of the very real issues with the Union Pacific Railroad include the fact that (a) it has been in Maricopa since the 1870’s, (b) its Sunset Line is one of two cross country railways whose operations cannot be disrupted, and (c) the AMTRAK station is located right at the proposed grade separation’s intersection and might have to be relocated.

Teaford added, “There has been discussion about designing John Wayne Parkway as a “signature” street and upgrading it, not making it into a freeway.” In fact, one audience member proposed a bypass to get rid of truck traffic on “historic 347.”

Construction-related traffic issues for this project will be an enormous problem. No good detour routes exist for emergency vehicles, traffic headed to the Ak-Chin Community or Harrah’s casino. Additionally, the school sites on Honeycutt Avenue would potentially be cut off, as would access to the Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway. Business owners and residents who live in the vicinity would likewise be affected. Public Works Director Bob Jackson added, “If you are a business owner along 347, we want to sit down with you.”

The SR 347 grade separation feasibility study should be finished by next year with preliminary engineering, analysis of alternatives and environmental studies completed by 2009. By 2011, the final design should be in place; however, actual construction depends on funding. According to Jackson, “The key component to both these projects is funding. Nobody has that kind of money; we need to rely on a bunch of partners for funding.”

Maricopa Mayor Kelly Anderson asked about the role developers planned to play in these projects. Speaking for Ron Smith of Omega Management, Jackson explained, “They recognize they are part of the commitment factor. They will work with us and help us solve it.”

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Chet Teaford (left), HDR Engineering, is working on the grade separation project; Troy Sieglitz is a consultant for the Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway improvement.

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Public Works Director Bob Jackson (left) and District 3 Supervisor David Snider discuss transportation issues.

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The presentations as well as various displays provided citizens with project information.

Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway Improvement Project
The Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway study is closely related to the grade separation project since the railroad tracks run parallel to that roadway; therefore, both consulting firms will be working together.

A 1993 study will be updated to include the findings of the 2005 Small Area Transportation Study (SATS) and 2003 limited access information. Troy Sieglitz of PBS&J explained, “There are more questions about this issue than answers right now.” A design is needed for what the highway will look like while addressing drainage, environmental impact and right-of-way issues.

The Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway has a deteriorating infrastructure, partially due to explosive growth and the resultant traffic on that roadway. By combining several studies, including figures supplied by Pinal County, conflicting traffic projections can be assessed and a more accurate estimate determined.

As facilitator John Godak concluded the question and answer session, one resident noted, “We need to think bigger than the 347 and the Casa-Grande Highway.” Jackson responded that planning was ongoing with Maricopa County for a traffic corridor. “We’re looking at several alternatives; it’s not going to happen overnight.”

Another public meeting will be scheduled for either September or October to solicit citizen input. In the meantime if you have input regarding the grade separation project, improvements to the Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway or transportation needs and issues in Maricopa, contact City Engineer Wonders by email or at (520) 568-9098.