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Overpass

City Councilmembers (from left) Nancy Smith, Henry Wade, Peggy Chapados, Mayor Christian Price, Vice Mayor Marvin Brown, Vincent Manfredi and Julia Gusse turn dirt for the formal groundbreaking ceremony Monday. Photo by Mason Callejas

An infrastructure project 15 years in the making finally broke ground Monday morning.

City officials broke ground for the overpass at State Route 347 and the Union Pacific Railroad crossing.

A who’s who of Maricopa leadership came out to a vacant lot on John Wayne Parkway and Honeycutt Road, property that will be beneath the future overpass, to witness the ceremonial launch of the historical event.

“When we’re here today on this momentous and historic day, it’s not because we just decided that yesterday we needed an overpass and we just finally got around to doing it,” said Mayor Christian Price speaking to a sizeable crowd. “It’s because it’s been in the works for 15 years.”

Along with city council members and staff, Price also reunited with the city’s former leaders to break ground on the State Route 347 overpass above the Union Pacific Rail Road crossing.

Former Mayors Edward Farrell, Kelly Anderson and Anthony Smith attended the groundbreaking.

Price honored his predecessors with a gift for their contributions to the overpass.

“I think this goes way, way back to probably August of 2003 when Mayor Farrell formed the committee to incorporate because if we hadn’t taken the step to incorporate we would not be here because we didn’t have the political clout to do this,”

Farrell is the first mayor of Maricopa. He led the once-small town toward cityhood over 15 years ago.

I think it’s awesome, as Kelly can agree with me because we were here from day one, and at day one that overpass was a priority. For the mayors that follow after us to take it where we left off – Mayor Smith starting it in 2008 – and Mayor Price to take it from third-base-to-home, he did an outstanding job. It’s a very special day,” Farrell said.

Smith, now a Pinal County supervisor said the overpass is one step in a long line of upcoming improvements to the 347.

“This is kind of a warm up for really where we are heading in the future, so I know it’s difficult, but we’ve got a lot of work to do,” Smith said.

City leaders braced residents to be patient with the project’s related traffic delays. Construction is slated to being by Nov. 25. Until then, Price said it’s time to celebrate.

“Congratulations, we’re getting an overpass,” he said.


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A freight train rolls across SR 347, delaying traffic in a familiar scene for Maricopans. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

A formal groundbreaking for the construction of an overpass on State Route 347 across the Union Pacific Railroad tracks will take place Nov. 20. A ceremony is set at 10 a.m. at the northeast corner of John Wayne Parkway and Honeycutt Road.

Coming in more than $5 million under project estimates, Ames Construction was chosen as the general contractor to build the overpass and realign local streets. Arizona Department of Transportation spokesman Tom Hermann said the work will begin within 60 days of Ames being selected, which occurred Sept. 15.

Based in Scottsdale, Ames has 750 days to complete the project. Its winning bid was $23.1 million. The City of Maricopa is contributing almost $14 million to the project, which has a total estimate of $55 million.

The first construction is expected to take place away from the current roadway.

“The early stages of the project will mean few, if any, traffic restrictions,” Hermann said. “Most of the work will be done in the future path of SR 347, east of the current alignment. We recognize the importance of both SR 347 and Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway, and we’ll work to keep any restrictions to a minimum.”

The project will create a six-lane overpass from Hathaway Avenue south to Desert Cedars Drive. It includes the realignment of Honeycutt Road, Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway and Honeycutt Avenue.

 


A version of this story appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.

The eastbound lane of Maricopa/Casa Grande Highway just east of SR 347 will be closed Oct. 17-19 from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. each night. Traffic will be shifted to the center lane. The lane closure is due to utility relocation in preparation for the SR 347 Overpass.

Head to www.OverpassTracker.com for an overview of the project, frequent updates on traffic impacts, project timelines, maps and videos of what the project will look like when complete. The City of Maricopa has also established a 24/7 Hotline for you to call and get answers to more specific questions or concerns at 520-316-6910.

The overpass is tentatively scheduled to see the beginning of construction late this year.

Coming in more than $5 million under project estimates, Ames Construction was chosen as the general contractor to build an overpass across the Union Pacific tracks at State Route 347.

Based in Scottsdale, Ames has 750 days to complete the project. Its winning bid was $23.1 million.

The State Transportation Board selected the contractor at its Sept. 15 meeting in Tuba City. Because the bid was 18.5 percent under the department’s estimate of $28.3 million, it was pulled off the consent agenda for a full discussion before its approval.

Mayor Christian Price said a “very tentative” date of Nov. 20 has been scheduled for the formal groundbreaking, but those arrangements are still in flux.

Other companies that bid on the project were Pulice Construction, Haydon Building Corporation, J. Banicki Construction (all in Phoenix and all under the state’s estimate), Coffman Specialties of San Diego, which was about $300,000 over the estimate, and FNF Construction of Tempe, which was almost $1 million over the estimate.

The project will create a six-lane overpass from Hathaway Avenue south to Desert Cedars Drive. It includes the realignment of Honeycutt Road, Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway and Honeycutt Avenue.

ADOT described the work as “constructing bridges, grading, aggregate base and asphaltic concrete, retaining walls, pipe culverts, curb and gutter, raised medians, sidewalks, and fencing. Additional work includes striping, signing, lighting, landscaping, traffic signals, and related work.”

Last year, Ames Construction completed the Hell Canyon Bridge on State Route 89 in Yavapai County. Ames is also working on the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway.

Transformation of the Maricopa skyline is beginning its early phases as demolition crews tear down three properties in the Heritage District this week.

First buildings torn down for overpass construction

  • 44600 W. Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway
  • 44302 W. Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway
  • 44617 W. Honeycutt Road

The work located along Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway and Honeycutt Road comes in preparation for construction of the SR 347/Union Pacific Railroad overpass that is slated to begin later this year.

Of the two residential properties on Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway that were demolished, one was a structure used earlier in the year for Maricopa Police Department tactical training.

The third building, an equipment shed on Honeycutt Road, is also in the process of being torn down.

Workers are also removing foundations, fencing and vegetation at demolition sites.

Breinholt Contracting Company Inc. began demolition Wednesday and crews are expected to end the work July 12.

The Arizona Department of Transportation awarded the company $27,900 for the demolition, according to the Arizona State Transportation Board website.

ADOT went out to bid two weeks ago for the $37 million overpass construction, and will open the bids to candidate contractors Aug. 25. The full project, which includes realigning traffic flow on Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway and Honeycutt Road, property purchase and demolition, is estimated to cost $55 million.

ADOT Spokesman Tom Herrmann said overpass construction will begin in the fall.

“It will probably be October that we’ll actually start work on the bridge itself,” Herrmann said, adding the dates of future demolition projects in the Heritage District are yet to be scheduled.

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Expected and unexpected traffic delays have resulted from prep work near the intersection of Sate Route 347 and Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway.

Though groundbreaking for the construction of the overpass is expected in autumn, preparation work has been obvious along John Wayne Parkway from Hathaway Avenue to Alterra Parkway. That has already impacted traffic, and the City of Maricopa launched a webpage to keep residents apprised of road activity.

OverpassTracker.com offers updates and maps and links to the project page hosted by Arizona Department of Transportation.

Work this spring included relocating utility lines on portions of State Route 347, Honeycutt Road and Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway. Workers moved the fire administration building off its site in the path of the overpass to its temporary location on Edison Road. Parking shelters were also removed. Much of the work affecting traffic was done at night, but some utility work unexpectedly clogged daytime traffic as well.

The overpass webpage and a hotline (520-316-6910) were created to keep citizens informed of such changes.

The $50 million project creates six lanes on a bridge over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks to relieve the convergence of more than 31,000 cars and 40 trains a day.

Crews did night work to lessen some of the impact on traffic flow. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

This article appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

Mayor Christian Price and Councilmember Vincent Manfredi look over the options for a possible pedestrian crossing to coincide with the overpass. Photo by Mason Callejas

A possible pedestrian bridge spanning the Union Pacific Railroad was discussed on Tuesday during an open house at Maricopa City Hall.

Members of the city’s planning department and contracted architects met members of the public and local officials in the lobby at City Hall to present three ideas for a pedestrian bridge, which the city hopes will help with foot and bicycle traffic trying to traverse the tracks when trains are present.

J2 Engineering and Environmental Design firm has been contracted by the city to help with the project, and was on hand to answer questions about the designs.

“[The proposed designs] each possess their own unique qualities,” J2 senior landscape architect Dean Chambers said. “They do come with a price tag, though.”

The first design, the “Maricopa Circle,” is the most visually stimulating design, including a snake-like suspension bridge that would hang over the current John Wayne Parkway and UPRR intersection with greenspace/plaza areas at either end.

See Maricopa Circle design

“The broad turns on either side were designed with cyclists in mind,” Chambers said.

The turns, he added, are still not entirely accommodating to cyclists in some areas, however. A longer ramp to fully accommodate bike riders would be cost prohibitive.

“If you’re a skilled rider, then maybe you could make it,” Chambers said. “But most [cyclists] would have to walk their bikes.”

Estimated costs for the Maricopa Circle design are already around $20.9 million.

The second design, the “Maricopa Station,” is another separate structure with a more simply designed “trellis-type” bridge. Its proposed location would be several hundred yards to the west of the overpass, connecting the northwestern portion of the Heritage District with the area around Maricopa High School.

See Maricopa Station design

The design is simple and would fully accommodate cyclists, Chambers said. However, it would require the purchase of land on either side of the tracks, bringing the price tag up to around $17.1 million.

The last and cheapest design pitched was dubbed the “Overpass Link.” Its proposed design includes utilizing the sidewalk on the overpass itself and building two small plazas on the western side of the overpass at either end, where there will be ramps and small parks.

See Overpass Link design

The drawback to the Overpass Link, Chambers said, is that cyclists are not allowed to ride in the roadway on the overpass; the agreement with the Arizona Department of Transportation prohibits it.  Cyclists will have to walk their bikes on the side walk to cross the overpass.

These designs are tentative, according to city officials, and will be discussed in detail at future city council and planning-and-zoning meetings.

Lane closures are scheduled on State Route 347 from just south of the railroad tracks to just north of Garvey Avenue from Sunday, June 11, through Thursday, June 15, from 8 p.m.- 5 a.m. for utility relocation in preparation for the SR 347 Overpass Project. Traffic will be able to get through, but expect delays.

 

map

  

No turns will be permitted from SR 347 east onto Honeycutt Road during the lane restrictions. Traffic will be detoured onto Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway, then up through Pershing Street to get back to West Honeycutt Road.

 

A utility company is being blamed for the traffic tie-ups in Maricopa this week.

While Arizona Department of Transportation has been working nights around the intersection of State Route 347 and Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway in preparation for the overpass, some daytime work has caused a logjam for northbound drivers.

Southwest Gas is relocating a gas line in the area, also in preparation for the overpass.

“They received a permit for the work but did not have an approved traffic control plan,” ADOT spokesman Tom Herrmann said. “The city stopped the work until a traffic control plan is approved and the city has a chance to communicate that to the community.”

Northbound SR 347 was narrowed to one lane, though both southbound lanes were open. Even with a new traffic plan, Hermann said there will still likely be traffic issues during the day.

The ongoing closure of Farrell Road at Porter Road further exacerbated the problem, lengthening the alternate routes by several miles.

Mayor Christian Price stated in Facebook postings said the city had “all over” ADOT and SWG, “but again our power is pretty limited when it’s just in their hands and we’re not updated.”

When traffic is congested at SR 347 and MCG Highway and eastbound Farrell is closed, the long alternatives for northbound traffic are to drive south to Peters and Nall Road, east to White and Parker Road, and north to MCG Highway, or to drive west on Farrell Road to Ralston Road, north to State Route 238 and east to John Wayne Parkway.

Linemen prepare a power pole on Honeycutt Road for a shift. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The overpass project in the middle of Maricopa has a lot of moving parts just for preparation. One of those parts is utility poles throughout the area.

Power lines on State Route 347 and Honeycutt Road are being affected by the pending construction.

“We are installing underground power cables and removing overhead power lines and poles,” ED3 Operations Manager Evan McCullough said.

The power line on SR 347 from Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway to Hathaway Avenue is being removed. Honeycutt Road will become essentially an onramp to the overpass, requiring ED3 to raise the height of its power poles along Honeycutt east of SR 347.

The poles along Honeycutt are also being re-spaced.

Starting Sunday, May 14, the westbound lane of Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway will be closed from Pershing Street to State Route 347.

The northbound lanes of SR 347 from Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway until just before Honeycutt Road will also be closed. The closures will continue Sundays – Thursdays from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. through Thursday, May 25.

During the closures, general traffic will still be able to get through, but expect delays. Semi trucks will be rerouted to use White and Parker Road to Smith-Enke Road.

The overnight closures are necessary to relocate gas lines in preparation of the SR 347 overpass project.

Photo by Mason Callejas

The Maricopa Police Department conducted a training exercise Wednesday in one of the buildings slated to be demolished to make way for the coming overpass.

The home, formally owned by Rilla Gomez, was purchased by ADOT as part of the SR 347 overpass project and has since been used as a tactical training ground for the MPD.

This is the third time the department has conducted training at the condemned property which Chief Steve Stahl said has provided his officers an opportunity for more hands-on training.

“Very rarely will we do stuff like this,” Stahl said. “But you have to train to push the envelope so you know you’re capable when that time arrives.”

MPD often has an opportunity to train in newly constructed homes, giving officers a chance to learn floorplans and layouts. However, Stahl said, in a new home there are drawbacks to conducting exercises like this.

“You always have to be careful not to break things,” Stahl said. “Here we have the opportunity to press the envelope a little bit more.”

Not being concerned with delicacy, officers were able to train using live training ammunition and real light sound diversionary devices (LSDD), otherwise known as flashbangs.

Arizona Department of Transportation public information officer Tom Herrmann said this will likely be the last training exercise at this property as demolition will likely begin in the next few weeks.

Construction of the SR 347 overpass at the Union-Pacific Railroad crossing is set to begin in the fall.

MPD officers train for dangerous situations in a home set to be demolished in the Heritage District. The house was acquired by ADOT in preparation for construction of the overpass project. ADOT photo

While Lt. Mike Campbell hopes Maricopa Police Department officers never need to enter a home to remove a barricaded suspect, a partnership with the Arizona Department of Transportation has helped them prepare, just in case.

With ADOT preparing to build a bridge carrying State Route 347 over the Union Pacific Railroad, officers have been able to train twice in a house acquired on Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway. The home eventually will be demolished to make way for a new alignment of Plainview Street that will connect Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway to Honeycutt Road and SR 347.

Campbell said the partnership ensures that the department’s Special Response Team has the opportunity to train for potentially life-or-death situations. That included practicing how to enter a home with a dangerous suspect inside, breaking down doors and methodically working their way through the building.

“There are very few opportunities for us to train for these rare but dangerous situations,” Campbell said. “Every time our officers can experience the challenges that come with entering a building in a hostile situation means we can do a better job if this kind of situation arises. This makes our officers better at their jobs and it makes Maricopa a safer place for our residents.”

ADOT photo

ADOT’s training collaborations like the one that took place this month in Maricopa date back to construction of State Route 51 in the early 1990s.

Just last summer, ADOT-acquired properties along the route of the South Mountain Freeway were used to train fire and law enforcement officers from more than a dozen agencies. That included SWAT teams using homes to practice responding to hostage situations and the Phoenix Fire Department, which trained 48 ladder companies and scores of new recruits.

ADOT works side-by-side with emergency responders every day, said Brian Rockwell, ADOT assistant chief right of way agent.

“Police officers willingly put themselves in harm’s way to protect all of us in dangerous situations,” Rockwell said. “When we have the opportunity to help them train, as we did here, we’re not only happy to do that but we consider it part of our service to the community.”

Construction of the SR 347 bridge begins this fall. The two-year, $55 million project will carry traffic over the railroad tracks on a path just east of the current SR 347. It will alleviate congestion on a road that is expected to see traffic double to more than 60,000 vehicles a day by 2040 and save drivers the time of waiting for trains to cross the highway. The area now sees 40-60 trains a day, a number that is expected to reach 100 daily in the next 20 years.

ADOT photo

Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

State Route 347 cannot be shut down during construction, and no property access can be cut off.

Arizona Department of Transportation hosted an informational meeting Wednesday to update residents on the upcoming overpass project. ADOT and consulting firm EPS answered concerns about the project itself and the impact of construction.

The project builds an overpass over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks at State Route 347. Construction is expected to begin in late fall.

Project engineer Elijah Williams, a familiar face at these meetings for years, is president of EPS, which was hired by ADOT to design the overpass. He presented the update to a packed board room at the Maricopa Unified School District.

Williams said EPS will recommend to the construction contractor the timeline for putting the project together. That involves not only the overpass but also new street alignments north and south of the railroad tracks. See ADOT 3D video models

“These bridges, they’re the things that take the longest to build. So they’re going to want to start on those early and not want to get into disrupting traffic for as long as they can avoid it,” Williams said.

Honeycutt Avenue, next to Maricopa High School, will be realigned, connecting with State Route 347 a little farther southeast than its current intersection. More extensively, Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway will be realigned to take traffic north to Honeycutt Road by utilizing a realigned Plainview Street next to MUSD’s district office and transportation department.

A traffic signal will be installed at the intersection of Honeycutt Road and Plainview Street. The traffic signal currently at SR 347 and Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway will be moved to SR 347 and Honeycutt Road.

Part of the current SR 347, where it passes long-time business like Headquarters and NAPA, will remain in place, passing under the new overpass, and become the access to eastbound Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway.

On SR 347 itself, there will be three lanes both directions between Edison Road and the current alignment at Desert Cedars/Alterra Parkway south of the First Baptist Church.

Though endangered in the early designs of the overpass, the church, Amtrak station and NAPA Auto Parts will not have to move.

The project is estimated to cost $55 million. Maricopa’s contribution to that is just short of $14 million. The city approved an intergovernmental agreement with ADOT on Tuesday for the construction of the overpass.

Bob Marsh, a resident of Desert Cedars, said when currently-empty, commercial property south of the tracks is finally developed, new access points may need to be cut into SR 347. Those vacant parcels will be on both sides of the alignment.

Photo by Jack Jackson

Maricopa photographer Jack Jackson took photos by drone for the Maricopa Historical Society to capture the appearance of the city around the State Route 347/Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway intersection before construction of the overpass. The photos include a topside view of the iconic water tower. The photos will be considered “historical” within a couple of years as the overpass transforms the appearance of that part of the city, and the Society wanted a photographic catalogue of the area. MHS President Paul Shirk presented the photos at an April 3 meeting of the Society at Maricopa Public Library. Arizona Department of Transportation will present an informational update about the project on Wednesday.

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Submitted photo

The Copa Center, originally a church that has served ostensibly as a senior center in Maricopa, will close April 1. Maricopa seniors had their last potluck at a gathering Thursday to “remember the good times we had,” according to senior advocate Joan Koczor.

The space was officially an adult drop-in but primarily used by residents age 55 and up for social gatherings, recreation and meetings. At the potluck, Copa Seniors displayed photos of some of the activities over the years.

The Copa Center is being torn down to make room for the State Route 347 overpass. Senior activities are being moved to a dedicated space at Copper Sky Multigenerational Complex and Santa Cruz Elementary School.

 

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The planned overpass will require the acquisition of private and public property in the Heritage District. ADOT photo

ADOT Makes an Offer

The Arizona Department of Transportation recently submitted offers to city officials to purchase four city-owned properties slated for demolition in preparation for the State Route 347 overpass. With the exception of one small segment of an MUSD parking lot, most city and county-owned properties have been offered between $16 and $18 a square foot, while privately owned properties could receive as little as $9 a square foot. These figures, according to ADOT documents, were the “result of a review and analysis of an appraisal made by a certified real estate appraiser.”

overpass-property-values-graph

The ADOT offers are on the consent agenda at the regular meeting of the Maricopa City Council tonight at 7 p.m. at City Hall.

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The overpass is tentatively scheduled to see the beginning of construction late this year.

The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration

IF YOU GO

What: Informational Meeting about SR 347 Overpass
When: Wednesday, April 5, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. (Presentation will begin at 6 p.m.)
Where:  MUSD Board Room, 44150 W. Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway
Who: The public is invited

(FHWA), invites you to attend a public information meeting about the State Route 347 at Union Pacific Railroad project. The purpose of this meeting is to provide information and gather community input in advance of construction.

ADOT, FHWA and the City of Maricopa completed a study to evaluate alternatives and identify improvements to access, capacity and traffic operations on SR 347 at the Union Pacific Railroad tracks through 2040. The study evaluated a future grade separation (bridge) to replace the existing at-grade intersection of SR 347 and the UPRR track.

A total of 10 alternatives were considered for the project, with three of the 10 alternatives recommended for further evaluation. A public hearing was held on Dec. 3, 2014. Through an extensive evaluation process in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Alternative H was identified as the Selected Alternative. The Final Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) were issued on March 18, 2015.

Alternative H was refined in early 2016 to identify further improvements to access, capacity, and traffic operations. The revisions to Alternative H and the associated impacts to businesses and residences were presented in a public information meeting held July 14, 2016. The revisions to Alternative H initiated the need for an EA Re-evaluation that was completed Dec. 6, 2016.

Final design has been ongoing and is scheduled to be completed summer 2017, with construction tentatively scheduled to begin in late 2017 and continue through late 2019.

The project team will be available to answer individual and property-specific questions at the public information meeting. Maps and displays will also be available for viewing. The meeting is in the board room of the district office of Maricopa Unified School District.

Prior to the public informational meeting, the project website at azdot.gov/347GS will be updated for your review.

For additional information, or to submit comments in writing, please contact ADOT Community Relations Project Manager Julian Avila by calling 602-320-7263, or emailing Javila@azdot.gov, or visit azdot.gov/347GS. If you have questions or comments, email projects@azdot.gov or call the ADOT Project Hotline at 855-712-8530.

F.O.R. has 2 months to find new home

F.O.R. Maricopa's current building, a former county jail, is in the path of the overpass, and the organization needs a new home. Photo by Michelle Chance

By Michelle Chance

With construction of the overpass looming, F.O.R. Maricopa food bank Director Wendy Webb said Arizona Department of Transportation has given the organization until early May to vacate its current location on John Wayne Parkway at Garvey Avenue.

ADOT will demolish the building, formerly a Pinal County Sheriff’s Office substation and jail, to make way for the overpass.

Related story: Overpass-caused demolition, relocation becoming reality

This extension comes after ADOT imposed two prior deadlines on the food bank. Webb said the department originally told her the food bank would need to leave by the end of March. Then, Webb said ADOT moved the date up to the end of February, prompting an anxious search for a new location.

“We’ve been frantically looking,” she said.

Although the deadline has been postponed, a new location has still not been found.

Webb said she is considering two temporary locations. The first is across from the court house, and the second is inside the red business barn.

However, neither site appears to be a long-term option. Webb said she will continue to look for a permanent solution as she works with city and county governments to figure out funding options for the food bank.

Webb leases the building from Pinal County and hopes to receive a portion of the money ADOT is paying the county for improvements she put into the building years ago.

The Maricopa Business Barn is one option for a temporary location for the food bank. Photo by Michelle Chance
The Maricopa Business Barn is one option for a temporary location for the food bank. Photo by Michelle Chance

The city is working with Webb to sublet a temporary location to the food bank.

Throughout the experience, Webb said ADOT’s communication and timelines have been inconsistent and problematic.

“Their communication is challenging, but in a case like this it could put us out of business,” she said.

F.O.R. Maricopa serves 100,000 meals a year, including people from surrounding towns whose communities do not have a central food bank.

Webb doesn’t think the other non-profit organizations in Maricopa could handle the 500 to 600 families per week the food bank serves if it was to shutter.

Another temporary option is a lot across from the courthouse. Photo by Michelle Chance
Another temporary option is a lot across from the courthouse. Photo by Michelle Chance

“This would really devastate this town if we were gone, but sometimes that’s what has to happen before it gets real enough for people,” Webb said.

ADOT spokesman Tom Herrmann said the department is “doing everything possible to assist the food bank during this time,” including paying $25,900 toward the cost of moving.


This story appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.

ADOT is using an agricultural motif in its design for the overpass. Bryon Joyce (right) was among P&Z commissioners who eyed the proposed design Monday.

Visions of rivets and cotton blossoms may be dancing before Maricopans’ eyes soon.

Design concepts for the upcoming overpass on State Route 347 have been making the rounds through Maricopa officials. Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) designers are trying to incorporate symbols of the area into the bridge, piers and roadside.

That includes images of cotton, corn, crop rows, wheat sheaves and scythes, plus visual elements of the old water tower and the railroad.

The Maricopa Development Services Department took the ADOT concepts before the Heritage District Citizen Advisory Committee, the Planning & Zoning Commission and a portion of the city council. Senior Planner Rodolfo Lopez said it was giving the officials a heads-up on the direction of the motifs.

Lopez said one of the design goals is to make the overpass aesthetically pleasing. It minimizes the number of panels but leaves room for public art.

Officials, however, are afraid graffiti artists might think that includes them.

P&Z Commissioner Bob Marsh said the overpass will be “a good target for tagging.” He said the city needs to be able to clean up any defacement quickly and cheaply. Commissioner Linda Huggins said it was “screaming target.”

Lopez said the pattern was meant to deter the idea of a blank canvas.

Huggins also said she did not like the number of cotton blossoms initially designed on the wall, a complaint that echoed feedback from councilmembers. Lopez said that was part of the commentary he would relay to ADOT.

“I like the idea of adding texture to the MSE (mechanically stabilized earth) panels, but has there been any thought if they need to replace a panel?” Commissioner Bryon Joyce asked. He is a new member of the commission and an architectural designer. “They are basically anchored together.”

Lopez said such questions would be taken back to ADOT.

The overpass essentially belongs to ADOT, which is responsible for its maintenance.

When Lopez spoke about being able to change out lights under the bridge for special events, the commission questioned if Maricopa was allowed to do that.

The highway over the bridge will include room for a bike lane but not the markings, at this point. However, there will be a grade-level crossing for bicycles and pedestrians. Several Maricopa High School students must cross the tracks to go to school, and not all of them drive cars.

“I can’t see kids going up and over the bridge when they can go down and around,” Huggins said.

About 60 percent of the design of the grade separation to lift SR 347 over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks has been completed. Groundbreaking is tentatively scheduled for September.

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Maricopa resident Derek Chin asks George Froehlich of EPS-Group a question about the plans. Photo by Tyler Loveall

Eager to see what changes have been made to the plan for an overpass across the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, around 200 residents attended a public information meeting July 14.

Click here for the ADOT slideshow presentation.

Hosted by the Arizona Department of Transportation in the board meeting room at Maricopa Unified School District, the meeting provided details on a new alignment.

Just as he did in the last formal public meeting in 2014, consultant Elijah Williams of EPS Group walked attendees through the changes and took questions.

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen a turnout like this at one of these meetings,” he said.

Williams said ADOT tried to respond to earlier concerns expressed about the earlier version, which would have razed the First Baptist Church and forced the Amtrak station to move. The new alignment avoids both of those scenarios.

It also avoids going over the top of the NAPA store, but leaving the building standing may cause even more problems for the owner. Tena Dugan was trying to find options for moving her store, which the old alignment plan would have destroyed. The new alignment wraps around the property.

Now she feels like she’s in limbo again until she can get answers about access.

“They took all that access on the front side. That’s my front door,” she said.

Putting an entry door on another side would be impossible without razing the 50-year-old building.

“I’ve never been against the overpass. This has to be done. I think this makes perfect sense,” she said of the overall concept. “It doesn’t make sense to leave my one building there when they’ve taken all of the side and all of the front.”

The new plan does wipe out the current site of F.O.R. Maricopa, the local food bank, something Wendy Webb saw in the cards. She has already been looking for a new location.

The new alignment changes the intersection with Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway. What the old plan had essentially made a one-way, southbound exit that looped under the overpass is now a two-way road. It provides access to businesses on the west side of SR 347, though northbound traffic will apparently have to make a U-turn at Hathaway Avenue to reach such businesses as The New HQ.

Because the road is now two-way under the overpass, another dramatic change in the plan is the realignment of traffic flow from MCG Highway. The traffic will still use a new road next to MUSD to reach Honeycutt Road and then turn west to access the overpass. That road, however, will cut through the lawn portion of Rotary Park while avoiding the pool.

Access off of MCG to Pershing Street or to the Amtrak station will be as it is now.

Unless they use Bowling Road, residents who live south of the railroad tracks and wish to access MCG Highway must exit on Honeycutt Road and then turn back south on the new road.

Public comments are being sought through Aug. 15. Comments may be mailed to c/o SR 347, 1655 W. Jackson, #126F, Phoenix AZ 85007, or emailed to SR347@azdot.gov. Call with your comments at 855-712-8530.

ADOT and EPS personnel gather to answer specific questions from residents. Photo by Tyler Loveall
ADOT and EPS personnel gather to answer specific questions from residents. Photo by Tyler Loveall

Maricopa and ADOT are now moving rapidly on an overpass, and the city's budget reflects maneuvers to make $15 million available. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

By Ethan McSweeney

Anticipated costs for the State Route 347 overpass drives much of the increases in the city of Maricopa’s $142 million budget for the 2017 fiscal year.

The budget, which the Maricopa City Council approved at its meeting on June 21, is $30 million higher than last year’s budget of $112 million. The city expects to spend about $15 million for its share of the design and construction of the overpass project.

The city isn’t sure when that money will need to be paid to the Arizona Department of Transportation, which is in charge of the overpass project, but it will be budgeting to pay for it in the upcoming fiscal year, said Brenda Hasler, Maricopa’s financial services director.

The SR 347 overpass, which will span the Union Pacific Railroad that cuts through Maricopa, is expected to have design completed by 2017, according to ADOT. Construction is scheduled to last from late 2017 through late 2019.

The overpass was included in the Department of Transportation’s Five-Year Transportation Facilities Construction Program that the State Transportation Board approved earlier this month. Inclusion in the Five-Year program means that it will be funded during that period from 2016 through 2021.

The budget for the 2017 fiscal year, which runs from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017, doesn’t include many substantial changes from last year’s budget, Hasler said.

The city spent about $60 million of last year’s $112 million budgeted expenditures. That higher estimate for spending is the result of the budgeting for items like grants prior to the fiscal year that the city may or may not actually receive, Hasler said.

Mayor Christian Price said during the council meeting the budget has gone through extensive revisions in the months-long process.

“It’s a really long process,” Price said. “That’s what’s taken us to this point today.”

Also in the budget, the city anticipates a five-fold increase in parks and recreation fees it will collect from Copper Sky, from $299,500 last year to about $1.55 million this upcoming year, based on increased membership.

The city also expects to collect slightly more in property tax revenue due to increased property values in Maricopa. For the 2017 fiscal year, the city plans to take in $14.73 million in primary and secondary property taxes, up from $14.26 million last year. Tax rates remain the same.

Maricopa scored a big win in the effort for an overpass at the Union Pacific crossing on State Route 347 by landing a federal TIGER grant of $15 million. Photo by Michael Barnes
Maricopa scored a big win in the effort for an overpass at the Union Pacific crossing on State Route 347 by landing a federal TIGER grant of $15 million. Photo by Michael Barnes

Rendering of model ADOT is using as a guide for engineers designing the overpass on SR 347 over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks.

Meeting Friday in Holbrook, the State Transportation Board voted to adopt the Arizona Department of Transportation’s 2017-2021 Five-Year Transportation Facilities Construction Program.

On the plan, a long-sought railroad overpass on State Route 347 in Maricopa will move forward thanks to a $15 million federal TIGER grant and $15 million local contribution in addition to ADOT’s $19 million commitment.

The project’s goal is to alleviate traffic backups at the Union Pacific Railroad crossing by replacing the existing at-grade intersection with a grade separation. Construction is planned to start in fiscal year 2017.

For Mayor Christian Price, the vote was a “Phew!” moment. He has been attending Transportation Board meetings for months to keep the project at the forefront of members’ minds. He was in Holbrook Friday for the vote.

“I’m excited,” Price said. “It’s been 13 years of work. That’s how you put teamwork together.”

Though various ADOT and city officials have hedged on the start date for construction, Price said ground would have to be broken sometime in 2017 because of the time mandates of the TIGER grant. And construction is not the beginning of the project. A plan for redirecting traffic from Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway and city streets in the Heritage District is an important element.

“We have to start getting right of way and moving things around first,” Price said.

Because of additional funding available through the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, ADOT will be able to move forward on a quicker timeline with four major projects that will improve key commerce corridors: widening Interstate 10 in Pinal County from State Route 87 to Picacho and from Earley Road to Interstate 8, and widening two stretches of US 93 between Wickenburg and Interstate 40.

“Major freight corridors that connect Arizona to Mexico and large neighboring U.S. markets will benefit from key expansion projects in this Five-Year Program,” ADOT Director John Halikowski said. “Improvement projects along some of Arizona’s busiest corridors will not only provide better mobility but help enhance trade, commerce and economic development.”

Once the two I-10 projects are complete, ADOT will have reached its goal of widening the entire stretch of I-10 between Casa Grande and Tucson to a six-lane divided highway.

Other projects programmed for funding include improving State Route 189 in Nogales to enhance the flow of commerce between the port of entry and Interstate 19.

The program approved Friday meets the agency’s goal of $260 million per year dedicated to preservation.

The State Transportation Board’s approval of the Five-Year Program, which is updated annually, followed a call for public comment in March and three public hearings. In general, projects begin as part of the agency’s long-range visioning process, move into a 20-year plan and a six- to 10-year development program and then become part of the Five-Year Program, which is developed by working closely with local planning organizations and community leaders to identify projects that are ready to build or design.

Funding for the Five-Year Program is generated by the users of transportation services, primarily through gasoline and diesel fuel taxes and the vehicle license tax. Both the Maricopa and Pima county regions have independent revenue streams established through voter-approved sales tax increases that allow for more expansion projects to take place.

 

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Photo by Michael Barnes

By Ethan McSweeney

The Maricopa City Council approved an agreement with the Arizona Department of Transportation on Tuesday for the design of the planned State Route 347 overpass.

Under the terms of the agreement, the city will pay the Department of Transportation $525,700 toward the design of the overpass, which will span the Union Pacific Railroad tracks that cut through Maricopa. The city would be responsible for about 21 percent of costs that exceed the initial estimate with the rest of the costs falling on the state, according to the agreement.

The funds from Maricopa for the project will come out of the city’s Highway User Revenue Fund rather than Development Impact Fee (DIF) funds. After a brief discussion at the Tuesday night meeting, the present City Council members unanimously approved the terms, known as an intergovernmental agreement (IGA).

The wording in the agreement allows Maricopa to use DIF funds if city staff can find those funds.

“If DIF is available to fund this project, then that is the one we would pursue,” City Manager Gregory Rose said. “We would take as much as we can from DIF funds because they are so restricted.”

“HURF gives us a broader use, and so if you had to pick, you would want to pick something you know is a transportation-related project within the scope of DIF, that’s what you want to draw it from first,” Mayor Christian Price said. “But if you can keep HURF in reserve, that allows you the option of using HURF for other transportation projects that aren’t so strictly located as DIF is.”

Last year, the Department of Transportation placed the State Route 347 overpass in its Five-Year Program with hopes to finish the project by 2020.

The project will cost about $55 million to complete, according to ADOT, with the city of Maricopa contributing about $8 million, which will be spent in increments over the next few years.

The overpass is intended to ease traffic backups that occur on State Route 347 in Maricopa at the railroad crossing, according to ADOT.

Andy Buckband unloads food behind F.O.R. Maricopa, a food bank which may or may not be in the path of a planned overpass.

“We have to get prepared for what the future looks like for us.”

When Wendy Webb talks about the plans of F.O.R. Maricopa, the founder and director of the food bank has to use a lot of question marks. The pending railroad overpass on State Route 347 is a big part of that uncertainty.

Webb does not know if F.O.R. (Food, Opportunity and Resources) Maricopa will have to move or will simply have its access changed dramatically. Relocation seems highly likely, and the nonprofit’s board is looking at options.

F.O.R. Maricopa has a 10-year lease with Pinal County for the building it occupies at 44625 W. Garvey next to Maricopa Fire District administration buildings, the Park & Ride parking lot and a county air-quality monitor.

It is also next to John Wayne Parkway. The building was a sheriff’s office substation and jail before Maricopa incorporated. F.O.R. Maricopa put about $100,000 into the building to fit its needs.

“My understanding is that they do have to help get you into something similar that you can afford,” Webb said. “There doesn’t appear to exist anything like that that I’m aware of.”

Webb asked former mayor Kelly Anderson, who recently finished his tenure on the State Transportation Board, to try to get more recent estimates from the Arizona Department of Transportation.

“So far, it’s still pretty general because the plan is in flux,” she said.
FOR-maricopa
In their design for the overpass, ADOT engineers are working off a so-called Alternative H approach while trying to avoid as many businesses and homes as possible. A most recent concept shows the MFD buildings being spared along with the food bank.

“We still have to have business access, so I think that might be one of our biggest challenges,” Webb said. “If we are saved, how do you get to us?”

ADOT personnel called Webb to discuss the organization’s needs. “We’ve spoken in generic terms,” she said. “We don’t really know. I don’t think anybody knows. I think it probably changes weekly.”

Despite the uncertainty, F.O.R. Maricopa is looking at options in case it has to move.

“We’ve been out there looking for land,” Webb said. “We found on the back side of McDavid behind the high school there is some property there that is really not that far out for us and it’s owned by some investors. So we did talk to two investors to see if they would be willing to parcel out three acres for us so we would have enough room for parking. They said they were open to discussions.”

The board is also looking into land that could become available as a result of construction work at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino, owned by the Ak-Chin Indian Community.

“They’re trying to figure out what they don’t need in the future and would that be something they could give us for a temporary place to live until we could afford to build or whatever,” Webb said. “We’re still working with them to see what they think they’ll have available. It was a lovely surprise. I had no idea.”

F.O.R. Maricopa is not banking on either of those possibilities. But Webb has confidence the food bank’s most reliable supporters will step up to help once a plan is finally in place.

“We’re trying to come up with options to make the costs as low as possible in case there is no place for us to go,” Webb said.


This story appeared in the June issue of InMaricopa.

Executive Director Wendy Webb has been trying to find options if the food bank has to move.
Executive Director Wendy Webb has been trying to find options if the food bank has to move.

ADOT workers prepare to construct an overpass on Bell Road at Grand Avenue (U.S. 60) in Surprise, a project that has some similarities to plans for an overpass in Maricopa. ADOT photo

In March, when officials with the Arizona Department of Transportation started calling Maricopans who own land that is possibly in the path of the upcoming overpass, the message was different than it had been in previous contacts.

“They told me I had 12 months to be out of here,” said Tena Dugan, owner of NAPA Auto Parts on the corner of John Wayne Parkway and Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway.

But a new approach by engineers may change that, too.

Dugan said the earlier understanding was that she would have 18-months’ warning. However, a sense of expediency became part of the project when it landed a federal TIGER grant of $15 million.

“The TIGER grant is the only funding with a deadline attached,” Public Works Director Bill Fay said. He clarified the deadline attached to the grant pertains to signing a construction contract, not completion of the project.

Fay said while ADOT is basing its ongoing design work off Alternative H, there are engineering modifications being considered that could lower the cost, which is estimated at almost $50 million.

On top of that, designers are also trying to avoid as many homes and businesses as possible – even NAPA, which has always been the one business discussed as irretrievably in the way of the overpass.

“They are working to try to get people back out of that situation,” Fay said.

But Dugan’s message from ADOT was to find a new location for the business by April 1, 2017.  With luck, she could get a 30-day extension.

“I told them 12 months is not doable in this town,” Dugan said. Because Maricopa is so young, “there is not another building to go into.”

ADOT photo
ADOT photo

ADOT is only at 15 percent design but is working on a concept that would also avoid the First Baptist Church, which Alternative H would destroy, though the new plan would impact its access. And the Amtrak station, which caused much of the overpass discussion in the first place, may not have to be moved at all.

“They are making a major effort not to relocate Amtrak,” Fay said. “It’s theoretically possible not to have to move it. For the sake of this project, I don’t think there’s a reason to move it.”

ADOT plans public meetings about the overpass in August and April to gather feedback on the most current concept for the overpass, according to ADOT spokesman Steve Elliott.

“Local input can help shape the project’s final design,” he said.

After the final design is developed, ADOT will determine any right-of-way needs. That process is expected to be complete by June 30, 2017.

“The project is currently scheduled to be advertised for bid in fall 2017,” Elliott said. “Right now, construction is scheduled to begin by late 2017 and end by late 2019.”

However, Fay’s estimate for completion is 2021 or 2022.

Maricopans wanting to see how a similar project is handled can look to an overpass ADOT is currently constructing on Bell Road over Grand Avenue and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks in Surprise. That project includes a full closure of the road for six to eight months. Road closure is not part of the plan in Maricopa. Elliott said the project team must still finalize a plan for accommodating traffic.

“As we have for Bell/Grand and other projects, ADOT will work with business owners to maintain access,” he said.

The Bell/Grand project has had its share of discontent among affected businesses, and there was even a late effort from some community members to stop it altogether.

That is not on Dugan’s mind, but she said she has hired an attorney. “I’m not trying to stop it or make a bunch of money off of it,” she said. “We’ve known since the beginning we were in the middle of it.”

She said she wants to be sure of her rights as an owner. “It would be good to have some peace of mind,” Dugan said.


This story appeared in the May issue of InMaricopa.

Don Pearce owns a Honeycutt Road salvage yard that is in the path of the planned overpass on State Route 347 at the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

When the grade-separation overpass on State Route 347 becomes a reality, it will alter several properties. Most are businesses.

Some will be bought and demolished. Others will have their access dramatically changed. All have to wait for the Arizona Department of Transportation.

“It’s teaching us patience,” said Pastor Jim Johnson of the First Baptist Church, which might be in the way.

The expected southbound path of the overpass removes the current dogleg curve to the west at Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway and follows a straighter route. That would run the overpass over Maricopa Fire Department’s administration buildings, near F.O.R. Maricopa food bank, the former La Roca bar property, a salvage yard, part of Copa Center, NAPA Auto Parts, Spoon’s Café, the Amtrak station and First Baptist Church.

Several of those lots belong to the city. Maricopa bought and demolished La Roca last year. The MFD buildings and Park-n-Ride lot belong to the city as does the Copa Center. Of the other property owners, some are certain their property will be acquired by the city while others don’t know because of the uncertainties of ADOT’s plans.

There are anxieties for both as they wait for ADOT to move forward on its design.

“Until they finish the design to 30 percent, they won’t be able to tell us for sure,” Johnson said.

ADOT is using what it is calling Alternate H. That plan runs straight over First Baptist Church, which is more than 60 years old. While there has been talk at the city and state level of somehow accommodating the church into the plans, all Johnson knows for certain is ADOT prefers Alternate H.

“We’ve been investigating different properties in Maricopa,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to figure out what size property we’re going to need.”

The church had already been raising funds to build two other buildings on its 1.06 acres. If necessary, those funds could go toward purchasing a new property when combined with money from the city’s right-of-way acquisition. Its full cash value has most recently been assessed at $150,000. Its market value will be the point of negotiation.

Johnson is just as worried ADOT’s final plan will not force the demolition of the church but will bring the overpass traffic dangerously near the church and make access difficult.

Businesses on both sides of State Route 347 south of the tracks will have their access impacted.

“There will be a dead end on 347. There’ll be a dead end on Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway. They’ll put about 10 businesses out of business,” said Don Pearce, who does not think the overpass is necessary.

Pearce owns property full of salvaged vehicles next to Copa Center. It was four lots when he bought it and now is two parcels of a quarter-acre each.

He said there was once a home on the property, which is marked as residential, but that is just a concrete slab now. He put up the newer building he uses as garage, workshop and storage unit.

Whatever he uses the property for at the moment, it is definitely in the path of the overpass.

“They’re supposed to negotiate a price on it,” Pearce said.

He said some buyers had been interested in the property until the overpass discussion started. Now he’s worried he will not get the value of the property as real estate prices begin to rise. One of the lots has a full cash value of $46,367 and the other $48,764.

Pearce expects a bid soon on most of the contents of the lot. The vehicles that are not for sale he will move to another parcel.

“A guy called me from ADOT about my property the other day,” he said. “When I asked him how long it was going to be before I’d know anything, he said he didn’t have anything to do with purchasing, but it’ll take a year and a half to purchase the property.”

Acquiring right-of-way is the responsibility of the City of Maricopa. In March, the city council signed an intergovernmental agreement with ADOT to that effect.

ADOT is in the middle of a public-comment period on its updated five-year program. The Maricopa overpass is among ADOT’s suggestions to move forward on a quicker timeline. The State Transportation Board will finalize the projects and timelines for the five-year plan in June.

The project is set to receive $19 million from the state, $15 million from a federal TIGER grant and $15 million in local contributions.

Meanwhile, First Baptist Church has been consulting with attorneys who specialize in property value negotiations. Johnson said he has also spoken with leaders at Ahwatukee’s Mountain Park Community Church, which is going through a similar situation with the Loop 202 extension.

Like Pearce, he is concerned about rising real estate prices as First Baptist considers buying another property. He said not knowing yet what ADOT’s plans will mean for the church parcel has left them in a holding pattern as the church membership tries to figure out its future.

“We’re trying to do due diligence,” Johnson said. “We will trust in God that it will work out.”


This story appeared in the April edition of InMaricopa.

The Arizona Department of Transportation continues to gather comments for its proposed five-year construction program by reaching out to the public and communities statewide for their input on which projects should move forward over the next few years.

The second public hearing for the 2017-2021 Tentative Five-Year Transportation Facilities Construction Program is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday, April 15, at the ADOT Administration Building Auditorium, 206 S. 17th Ave. in Phoenix. The monthly State Transportation Board meeting will follow the public hearing.

For this Tentative Five-Year Program, ADOT was able to recommend a few more expansion projects for Greater Arizona because of additional funding through the federal Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, as well as a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant. These projects, aimed at enhancing key freight corridors in Arizona, otherwise would have remained in ADOT’s Development Program as projects not starting until six to 10 years out.

Among ADOT’s suggestions to move forward on a quicker timeline are two Interstate 10 widening projects in Pinal County (segments at State Route 87 to Picacho Peak and Earley Road to Interstate 8), two widening projects along US 93 and the State Route 347 railroad overpass project in the city of Maricopa. The SR 347 project received a $15 million TIGER grant and a $15 million local contribution to add to ADOT’s $19 million commitment.

ADOT’s proposal meets its goal of $260 million per year dedicated to preservation work, such as bridges in need of upgrades and pavement in need of repair.

The 2017-2021 Tentative Program is available for public review and comment at azdot.gov/fiveyearplan, where a “how to read it” guide is available. ADOT welcomes feedback through Survey Monkey at surveymonkey.com/r/CJY36HY, email at fiveyearconstructionprogram@azdot.gov and by calling 1-855-712-8530. The comment period ends at 5 p.m. on May 30.

The public comment period includes three public hearings around the state. The State Transportation Board will then make its decision in June about what will be in the final 2017-2021 Five-Year Program.

Here are details for the two remaining public hearings and the State Transportation Board’s June meeting. The first public hearing was held in Oro Valley last month.

April 15 at 9 a.m.: Public hearing and board meeting in the ADOT Administration Building Auditorium, 206 S. 17th Ave., Phoenix.

May 20 at 9 a.m.: Public hearing and board meeting in the City of Flagstaff Council Chambers, 211 W. Aspen Ave., Flagstaff.

June 17 at 9 a.m.: Board meeting in the City of Holbrook Council Chambers, 465 First Ave., Holbrook.

Maricopa scored a big win in the effort for an overpass at the Union Pacific crossing on State Route 347 by landing a federal TIGER grant of $15 million. Photo by Michael Barnes

In a boost to the effort to build an overpass, the city of Maricopa has landed a $15 million discretionary grant from the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program.

TIGER VII grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation are dedicated to building or repairing road, rail, transit and port projects with potential national impact.

U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick led a delegation letter to USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx to approve the funding.

“I want to thank Congresswoman Kirkpatrick for her steadfast and persistent efforts in obtaining this $15 million TIGER grant,” Maricopa Mayor Christian Price said. “She has championed this project since she was elected to Congress and has been our strongest advocate and greatest ally. Without her efforts, I am certain this project would not have come to fruition. We can’t thank her enough for her incredible support.”

The $15 million will support Maricopa’s efforts to construct a grade-separated highway overpass on a new alignment at the intersection of State Route 347, which the letter to Foxx noted is “one of the most dangerous rail crossings in Arizona.”

The project will also construct a double track rail line and relocate an existing passenger station, and will construct rail siding to provide off-main rail line loading and unloading of passenger trains.

Though Maricopa did not put all of its hopes in the TIGER grant basket, it was pushing hard and gathering county, state and tribal support for the grade separation. Price highlighted the importance of the TIGER grant again in his State of the City address this month.

“This is a major breakthrough for a project that is needed more urgently now than ever,” said Kirkpatrick, who serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “This is the fastest growing area of Arizona, and the current grade crossing is affecting congestion, school bus routes and overall public safety. Building an overpass is the only way to resolve this dangerous situation, and I am thrilled that Maricopa now has the resources to move forward.”

The Arizona Department of Transportation has the planned overpass on its five-year plan. It is currently under design by engineers. Once design is 30 percent complete, expected sometime next year, the city can begin working with landowners to acquire property in the path of the overpass.

On the current schedule, actual construction of the overpass will start in 2020.

Urgency for this project has increased along with Pinal County’s rapid growth, which has led to congestion and traffic nightmares at the crossing. In the letter to Foxx, Kirkpatrick noted the crossing also “presents problems for emergency and hazardous materials vehicles that must often sit and wait for trains to pass or worse, stall traffic for more than 20 minutes as Amtrak load and unload passengers at the station next to the crossing.”

Other congressmen who signed the May 25 letter to Foxx were Trent Frank, Matt Salmon, Raul Grijalva, Paul Gosar, David Schweikert, Ruben Gallego, Martha McSally and Krysten Sinema.