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State Route 347

SR 347 would be one of the beneficiaries of Prop 417, but the issue continues in the courts. (ADOT)

Maricopa and Pinal County are heading to Arizona Supreme Court.

Thursday, attorneys from the Goldwater Institute filed an appeal of a Court of Appeals ruling that favored the county’s regional transportation authority. The case, Vangilder, et al. v. Pinal County, et al., challenges Prop 417, a funding mechanism for a plan to improve Pinal County roadways.

Prop 417 was approved by Pinal County voters in November 2017. State Route 347 is among roadways on the improvement plan that was approved by voters in Prop 416 on the same ballot.

During the campaign, The Goldwater Institute, a conservative thinktank, had challenged the legal validity of Prop 417’s ballot wording. After its passage, the institute filed suit to stop its implementation.

Despite the lawsuit, with the approval of the courts, the RTA has been collecting the tax since April 2018. According to Pinal County records, the account holds $33.4 million as of the end of February.

Arizona Tax Court agreed with Goldwater in ruling that Prop 417 was “an unconstitutional special law” that exceeded county authority. The appellate court, however, overturned that decision in January, finding the tax to be valid.

The Court of Appeals judges felt the Goldwater attorneys were wrong on some facts of the case. They also stated Braden v. Yuma County Board of Supervisors, which Goldwater tried to cite as precedence, did not apply to the Pinal County case.

The case involves 12 law offices, from the Arizona Attorney General’s Office to private law firms representing friends of the court.

Pinal County, the RTA and Arizona Department of Revenue or direct defendants in the case. The Pinal Partnership and the municipalities of Maricopa, Coolidge, Queen Creek and Florence are amicus curiae. Arizona Tax Research Association, which had warned Pinal County about its concerns about the ballot issue’s validity months before the 2017 vote, also remains attached as amicus curiae.

Goldwater attorneys had until March 19 to file briefs with the state Supreme Court and filed on the deadline day. The parties now wait to learn if the judges will hear the case.

On the ballot, the question read:

PROPOSITION 417 (November 2017)
(Relating to County Transportation Excise (Sales) Taxes)
Do you favor the levy of a transportation excise (sales) tax including at a rate equal to one-half percent (0.5%) of the gross income from the business activity upon every person engaging or continuing in the business of selling tangible personal property at retail; provided that such rate shall become a variable or modified rate such that when applied in any case when the gross income from the sale of a single item of tangible personal property exceeds ten thousand dollars ($10,000), the one-half percent (0.5%) tax rate shall apply to the first ten thousand dollars ($10,000), and above ten thousand dollars ($10,000), the measure of tax shall be a rate of zero percent (0.0%), in Pinal County for twenty (20) years to provide funding for the transportation elements contained in the Pinal Regional Transportation Plan? Do you favor the levy of a transaction privilege (sales) tax for regional transportation purposes, including at a variable or modified rate, in Pinal County?

YES _____
NO _____

(A “YES” vote has the effect of imposing a transaction privilege (sales) tax in Pinal County, including at a variable or modified rate, for twenty (20) years to provide funding for the transportation projects contained in the Regional Transportation Plan.)

(A “NO” vote has the effect of rejecting the transaction privilege (sales) tax for transportation purposes in Pinal County.)

Arizona Supreme Court

Kyrie Sanders is cuddled by big brother Sam with their parents Jayden and Rachel Sanders at their Homestead home. Submitted photo

Midwife Tips
Nurse Lisa Cohen has suggestions for expectant parents who live a distance from a hospital:
Tip 1: Remain calm
Tip 2: Within in the final couple of weeks, store a plastic lining and a couple of blankets in your car
Tip 3: Have a provider’s number or on-call number easily available
Tip 4: Know how to check the mother’s breathing and the baby’s breathing
Tip 5: See Tip 1

A Maricopa family experienced life and death Dec. 24 as a child was born on State Route 347 about 12 hours before her uncle died on Interstate 10.

Kyrie Eve Sanders decided to arrive a few days earlier than expected, sending her parents scrambling to get to a Mesa birthing center in the early morning. Jayden and Rachel Sanders of Homestead North were expecting their second child Dec. 29.

“It was quite a crazy Christmas Eve,” Jayden Sanders said.

Even when Rachel began experiencing contractions at 2:30 a.m., she wasn’t too worried because her 2-year-old son Sam had needed 24 hours of labor before making his appearance (also on Christmas Eve) in 2017. In fact, the contractions were so erratic, the couple weren’t sure it was actual labor.

That is, until Rachel Sanders felt the baby turn, and contractions began full force at three minutes apart around 5:15 a.m. Jayden said they started calling everyone on their list to get a babysitter for Sam. When he came home from dropping off his son, “the contractions were very strong and relentless.”

Rachel settled into the back of their SUV because she could not sit up. “I think I’m going to have a baby in the car,” she told Jayden.

He dialed an on-call number at 6:14 a.m. as he began to drive to the Willow Midwives birthing center.

The first-call midwife was occupied with another mother giving birth, so the second on-call duty shifted to Lisa Cohen. A nurse since 1998, Cohen has been a midwife since 2008 and part of the Willow Midwives since August.

“I could tell pretty soon after the initial phone call” the couple might not reach the birthing center before their baby arrived, she said. Cohen asked Jayden to let her hear Rachel. By the particular noises she was making even beyond screaming, Cohen knew labor was pretty far along.

“Jayden, are you prepared to deliver your baby in the car?” Cohen asked.

“That was a question I never thought I would be asked my entire life,” he said.

Kyrie Eve Sanders weighed 6 pounds, 14 ounces. Submitted photo

They were starting to encounter SR 347’s commuter traffic as they neared I-10. Rachel could not yet feel the baby’s head with her hand, and Cohen talked her through breathing techniques. Meanwhile, Cohen, too, had jumped in her vehicle and was on her phone with them while driving to the birthing center herself.

As the Sanders’ vehicle approached the overpass bridge to turn onto I-10, Rachel announced she could feel the baby’s head. When he asked her if she wanted him to pull over, she said, “Absolutely not.” They were only 20 minutes from the birthing center. It was about 6:30 a.m.

When he pulled into the left-turn lane, however, Rachel realized the baby was arriving immediately and told him to stop. Because he was trapped in the far left lane, Cohen advised him to turn on his hazard lights. It was 6:37 a.m.

Before he could get out of the vehicle, Rachel said, “O, my gosh! She’s out!” She caught the baby herself and was holding Kyrie in her arms when Jayden turned around.

Cohen had Rachel check the baby’s breathing and, as well as she could on the phone, checked Rachel’s vitals as Jayden drove them on to the birthing center. Cohen arrived about 10-15 minutes ahead of them and was waiting outside when they arrived. Then she was able to have both Kyrie and Rachel properly examined for breathing and heart rate.

Talking parents through a birth remotely is a rarity, she said.

“There’s always a concern when you have an unattended birth,” Cohen said. “I didn’t do anything. It was all Rachel. All I did was try to stay calm for them.”

The family story took a very sad turn at 6:43 p.m. the same day.

Rachel’s parents, Randy and Janise Wooten, drove up from St. David to greet their new grandchild that afternoon. As they were heading home, they encountered heavy traffic on the I-10 near Vail and realized there was an accident.

While the Wootens were waiting in traffic, they received a call their son Brian had been in a crash, the same accident that delayed their journey. When they reached the accident scene, they learned he had been killed instantly when his van collided with a semi-truck. The funeral is planned for this weekend.

“It’s hard to wrap our heads around,” Jayden Sanders said, describing the day as the highest of highs and lowest of lows. “We find comfort in finding that perhaps things happened for a reason.”

The Sanders family has experienced the kindness of their neighbors and the community during the past seven days. This week they had their SUV detailed by a local company, which brought them a baby blanket after hearing their story.

 

Arizona Department of Public Safety will have law enforcement focused on State Route 347 this week.

Another patrol detail is set for Wednesday from 7 a.m. to noon, according to Sgt. Steven Sekrecki.

He said participating agencies will be the Highway Patrol, Gila River Police Department and Maricopa Police Department. Though the detail is targeting speeders and aggressive drivers, officers will also ticket for any other violations they witness.

In earlier details this year, DPS made 88 traffic stops in eight hours and handed out 106 citations to commercial vehicle drivers in another six-hour window.

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.

A wrong-way driver was the cause of a traffic backup on State Route 347 this morning, according to the Department of Public Safety.

An elderly male driver was traveling south in the northbound lanes but stopped just north of the junction with Maricopa Road.

Traffic had already slowed as drivers tried to avoid a collision and morning commuters backed up in the northbound lanes around 6:30 a.m.

Though DPS noted several collisions caused by the incident, the only injury reported was a motorcycle driver who apparently ran into the back of another vehicle. He sustained a non-life-threatening upper torso injury and was transported to the hospital.