City’s steadfast push for overpass pays off

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The persistent efforts of city leaders to secure funds for a much-needed overpass in the heart of Maricopa have shined a light on the Union Pacific Railroad crossing that cuts through the John Wayne Parkway portion of State Route 347.

Today, the beam has gotten the attention of both state officials and leaders in Washington.

“It’s on everyone’s radar list,” Kelly Anderson, a member of Arizona’s transportation board and former mayor of Maricopa, said Friday.

The outreach efforts by city leaders – including sit-down meetings with Washington, D.C. officials – were highlighted early this month when each of the nine U.S. House members of the Arizona delegation signed a letter sent to U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx that backed the city’s federal grant application for the project. 

“This doesn’t happen every day,” Mayor Christian Price said Friday.

The city council instructed staff in May to submit an application for a federal grant in an amount not to exceed $62 million. 

The letter offered statistics on the crossing’s high traffic volume and accidents that have occurred. It also states the intersection is “one of the most dangerous rail crossings in Arizona.” 

Mentioned in the letter was the death of a motorcycle rider who died at the crossing in February after striking a descending barricade arm. It also refers to the death of a child trapped in a truck that stalled on the tracks in June 2000. 

“Because it bisects the fastest growing area of Arizona, traffic is congested, public safety is compromised, and children are at risk because of its proximity to a high school,” the letter states. 

Carmen Gallus, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, the House member who initiated the note, said having a letter of support helps validate the importance of the issue. 

“It definitely raises the profile of the project,” Gallus said. 

Kirkpatrick was not available to comment, but Gallus said the congresswoman has been aware of the railroad crossing for several years from meeting with Maricopa leaders.

She said Kirkpatrick recognizes the overpass not only as a project that will address safety issues but will “contribute to economic growth and economic development in the region.” 

“It is an important project to her,” she said. “It is one of her priorities.” 

Price said a “proactive” effort on behalf of the city and other interested parties – such as the Ak-Chin Indian Community – helped push the project to the top of priority lists. It was also the work of the city’s lobbying firm, Nexxus Consulting that opened doors for city leaders. For example, representatives from Maricopa and Ak-Chin were able to meet with Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez during a trip to the nation’s capital in March. 

On Tuesday, the city council renewed a year-long $90,000 contract with the firm, which has lobbyists in Arizona and Washington, D.C. 

During a meeting of the state transportation board last month, Anderson made a motion to place the overpass project on the state’s five-year transportation plan, which lists transportation projects the state intends to fund.