Traffic to and from Maricopa, rather than traffic on city streets, sees the most collisions. (ADOT)

By Joycelyn Cabrera

Driver error, not highways, are the No. 1 reason that serious injuries and fatal crashes happen. Speeding is either a primary or a secondary factor. That’s been the case in several crashes that we investigate. It’s not a highway that rises up and kills people. In very, very, rare cases it’s the way the vehicle was built, but it’s almost always driver error.

Arizona Department of Transportation data shows crashes in Pinal County have increased by 34% over the last decade.

Pinal County is ranked third in having the most crashes in Arizona by county as of 2018, and roadways in the area have seen more crashes every year. While Pinal County residents blame population growth and insufficient roads, state agencies said the root cause has always been driver error.

By the end of 2018, there were 34% more crashes in Pinal County than there were in 2008, an increase bigger than Maricopa County (20% increase) and Pima County (which has seen a 41% decrease), the counties with the top rankings for car crashes in the state.

ADOT Summary Crash Facts. Pinal County has seen a dramatic increase in crashes over the years, out-pacing Maricopa and Pima County. Roadway and image vector templates from Vecteezy.com.

Residents of Maricopa said SR 347 is a major factor in the increase in collision totals for Pinal County, along with narrow corridors such as Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway.

David Maestas, former transportation policy manager for the City of Maricopa, worked closely with Sun Corridor Municipal Planning Organization and Pinal County on transportation issues.

Maestas said a transportation concern on roadways leading out of town include the bumper-to-bumper traffic on the roads during rush-hour.

“The population, even today, is putting the roadway in traffic distress because we have more vehicles on the roadway during peak rush-hour than it really is designed to carry and that’s just a function of the population having increased,” Maestas said. “Gridlock is probably the best term to use for it. The way you see in LA and rush hour, where vehicles are going 5-10 mph, people are missing appointments, people are getting to work late, crashes, so there’s a big safety aspect.”

ADOT data shows Pinal County roads leading out of cities result in the highest numbers of crashes. Out of all crashes in the county, almost 51% take place on roads leading in or out of city limits, higher than crash numbers in growing cities such as Casa Grande and Maricopa.

Rodolfo Lopez, planning and zoning manager for the City of Maricopa, said there are multiple factors which could contribute to Pinal County road crashes increasing over the years.  However, he said a goal for the City is to create more jobs in town to prevent residents from commuting while also growing the city’s development.

“We still have a lot of our residents driving out of town into the Phoenix-Metro area or Chandler region,” Lopez said. “Not having a job center in Maricopa is putting more cars on the roadways.”

Census population increases in the city of Maricopa correlate with increased crashes in Pinal County roadways. According to the 2010 census, the city reached a population of 43,482 people, and vehicular crashes reached 1,726 total. Five years later, the city recorded a population that was estimated at just under 50,000 people with a coinciding crash total reaching exactly 2,000 collisions.

By the end of 2018, with a continuously growing population reaching an estimated 54,000, crashes broke Pinal roadways’ record yet again with a total of 2,223 vehicular crashes.

Erin Tucker, a five-year Maricopa resident, said she hears about crashes almost every day and worries about driving with her young children in the car with her.

“I travel the road every day in the morning and the afternoon and I’m constantly having to take alternate routes because there’s so much backup.” Tucker said. “I have actually been looking at moving out of Maricopa just because it is so dangerous.”

Department of Public Safety Public Information Officer Bart Graves, said the top cause of collisions, statewide, is driver error brought on by impairment, speeding, or unsafe navigation on the roads.

“Driver error, not highways, are the No. 1 reason that serious injuries and fatal crashes happen. Speeding is either a primary or a secondary factor,” Graves said. “That’s been the case in several crashes that we investigate. It’s not a highway that rises up and kills people. In very, very, rare cases it’s the way the vehicle was built, but it’s almost always driver error.”

Israel Calderon has been in a coma for three years after getting stuck by shrapnel from a 12-car pile-up at the intersection of 347 and Riggs Road.

The pile-up happened in front of Calderon, sending metal debris flying all around the intersection. His wife Gloria Encinas and son Israel Jr., visit Calderon in hospice care several times a week, according to Tucker, who played on a softball team with Calderon for years before the incident.

“He’s breathing on his own, so the family has been racking up medical bills,” Tucker said.

Annual benefits are held for the Calderon family in the city organized by several members of Calderon’s softball team. All profits go toward medical payments.

While the statewide number of crashes since 2008 has increased, fatalities resulting from said crashes have decreased by 11% over the past decade. Last year, a crash only had a 1.6% chance of ending in a fatality, with total number of crashes hitting 4,368 and fatalities reaching 72.

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