One area of the Heritage District has already been affected by plans for the overpass. Photo by Mason Callejas

By Mason Callejas and Michelle Chance

Long before Maricopa was incorporated in 2003, residents dreamed of ways to ease traffic in the community. Almost 15 years after incorporation, the city is making its first major effort to alleviate congestion in part caused by one of the community’s cornerstones – the railroad.

For a town with few inroads, the pending construction of the State Route 347 overpass at the Union Pacific railroad tracks is seen by many as a solution to traffic backup caused by the numerous trains passing through Maricopa daily.

For others, the construction of the overpass itself is a greater burden than the trains. Most in the neighborhood must be out by the end of the month.

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Impact on residents

Gilbert Bandin, 65, is a lifelong resident of the neighborhood that will be most affected by the overpass.

Bandin’s commercial property, Spoon’s restaurant on Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway, as well as a portion of his private residence will be sacrificed for the overpass construction and the consequent expansion of Honeycutt Road.

“I’m not too happy,” he said.

The Arizona Department of Transportation offered Bandin $150,000 for the commercial land – a figure his lawyer said is unacceptable. The restaurant and two other structures on the land will be demolished.

Bandin said he would settle with the department for $250,000, as advised by his attorney.

Additionally, Bandin said ADOT offered him a little over $1 per square foot for the purchase of a 25-foot strip of his residential property on Honeycutt, something else he sees as unfair.

“You can’t buy some ceramic tile for less than that,” Bandin quipped.

A technician at Gila River Casino, Bandin said he was planning on retiring with the income generated from the sale of his commercial property. Now, he doesn’t know what to do.

“I wish they would be fair about it,” Bandin said. “$150,000 ain’t nothing nowadays.”

A neighbor who lives a couple of blocks south of Bandin’s home has resided in the area since 1960. Mike Diaz said he and his family own a few lots down one street within the community.

Mike Diaz will be minimally impacted by the overpass, but some of his neighbors aren't so lucky. Photo by Mason Callejas
Mike Diaz will be minimally impacted by the overpass, but some of his neighbors aren’t so lucky. Photo by Mason Callejas

Construction of the overpass will consume only a small triangular piece of one of the family’s lots, Diaz said. One of his neighbors, Relia Gomez, was not so lucky and had to sell her entire property to ADOT. Diaz said she has already relocated elsewhere in the Phoenix area.

Diaz had no complaint about the price ADOT offered him for the 1,400 square feet it will purchase for the overpass. He also showed little concern about the noise level of traffic that would soon be extremely close to his properties.

“According to [the city], there is going to be more noise from the train,” Diaz said. “So, I don’t know. We’ll find out when the thing comes.”

Diaz said the city assured his brother and him a barrier stifle sound from vehicles driving on the overpass and protect the neighborhood from potential accidents on the bridge.

Copa Center Seniors

One of the city’s oldest structures, the Copa Center, will also be lost. The issue has become a major point of contention for the center’s regulars.

Since demolition of the building became certain, one of those groups, The Maricopa Seniors, struggled to find a new home. Now, after several months of uncertainty, the city has landed one.

Maricopa Community Services Director Kristie Riester said a joint effort by the city, school district, police department and Age-Friendly Maricopa Advisory Committee has made multiple spaces available to accommodate the senior groups, including Santa Cruz Elementary School.

“The city has identified time at Copper Sky,” Riester said, “regardless of whether or not [Maricopa Seniors] choose to go to Santa Cruz.”

Room A at Copper Sky will be available to the senior groups Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 7 a.m. – 3 p.m., and Tuesday and Thursday noon – 4 p.m.

Events during spring break, winter break and a summer camp will prohibit the senior groups from using Copper Sky at various times. During those times, Reister said, the meeting room at the police substation will be available so long as it doesn’t interfere with police training.

NAPA in limbo

NAPA store owner Tena Dugan said the shop at the corner of John Wayne Parkway and Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway will continue to operate through construction while a search for a new location continues. She said deciding on NAPA’s future has been a struggle because communication with ADOT has been difficult.

“We are at their mercy, and they’ve not been very good at communication since they changed the direction of where the overpass is going to be.”

ADOT spokesman Tom Herrmann said the department identified a “small parcel” at the rear of NAPA that will be needed for the project.

“The appraisal for that property was just completed and that information will be sent to the property owner shortly,” he said in mid-February. “ADOT’s acquisition of this property for the SR 347 project will require Dugan’s consent.”

He said Dugan will be entitled to a relocation payment for any personal property located in that area that will be part of the project. Dugan is looking for a relocation spot.

She said she has a property in mind and is working with a real estate agent to find a better option. Until then, NAPA is open for business.

“We are not going out of business as so many people have said. We have been around way too long to do that,” she said.

According to ADOT, homes and businesses slated for demolition must be vacated by March 31, and construction is projected to start in early fall.

This story appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.