First, for an update on the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) news. THEY (THE ADOT BOARD) HAVE ADOPTED THEIR STAFF'S RECOMMENDATIONS INTO THEIR PLANS. All of the input from Pinal County, the governing entities affected and all of the citizens that took time out of their busy schedules to testify, was listened to and acted upon. If you have a moment and would like to send a thank you, please do so at firstname.lastname@example.org or the ADOT governing board at email@example.com .
The importance of this crucial vote taken by the ADOT Transportation Board cannot be overstated. In order to even be considered in the state plans for state roads, we have to be in the Move Arizona Plan for ADOT. This vote by the ADOT Transportation Board is instrumental in moving our needed infrastructure forward. Again, I would like to express my thanks for all who have written, called and/or attended the public meetings. The citizen involvement moved the issues of reserving right of way for these needed routes up on everyone's agenda. It also expanded the scope so that more lane mileage was added than what was previously proposed.
Recently, The Pinal County Board of Supervisors convened a summit regarding transportation. I opened the Pinal Regional Transportation Summit by saying: "If transportation isn't your issue-it will be." The 2006 Transportation Summit brought in leaders, planners and directors from all around central and southern Arizona to develop a dialogue over the future of moving people across Pinal County.
The idea for the summit participants was to urge them to start thinking regionally rather than locally. Participants and speakers came from Pinal, Maricopa, Pima and Gila Counties. The State of Arizona and the Governor's office also played a major role within the summit.
John Pein, the State and Regional Planning Manager for the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) said that many areas are currently underway doing a Small Area Transportation Study (SATS). The SATS are a local transportation plan which looks are the area's roads, population and infrastructure to plan for future needs "The SATS are the lifeblood of transportation," Pein said. "They help us (ADOT) with the state's long range planning process." Pinal County is currently in the process of conducting their SATS.
The summit featured a session with Ak-Chin and Gila River Community planners who explained their approach to future road projects and their desire to work with other municipalities to answer the need for transportation projects in the northern Pinal County area. With Pinal County's population reaching nearly 250,000 residents, growth issues are a focus of many regional planning entities. A sobering message by the planning director of the Central Arizona Association of Governments (CAAG) reminded many that the growth trend won't subside for a while.
When ADOT Director Victor Mendez approached the subject of funding new road construction he said what many participants already held as a core belief: there is not enough money to keep up with all the needs that occur all over the state. "The funding model is 30 years old," Mendez announced. "The challenge is finding a new funding model." Regarding growth in Pinal County Mendez said, "We had to go back and look at the growth that occurred in Tempe, Gilbert and Chandler," Mendez said. "We simply assumed the same will happen in northern Pinal County". We reshaped the transportation plan with that in mind." Mendez touched upon the recent ADOT corridor studies that were redone to reflect the growth in Pinal County. In his concluding statement Mendez reminded the summit of a mind set that ADOT and the state faces when it comes to transportation solutions. "There are no quick fixes. Working together we will come up with solutions." At this summit I added that the funding model is broken. We are going to have to start to look outside the box when it comes to finding more funding sources to build these needed roads, both state wide and local.
To help start the ball rolling on developing a better road system throughout Pinal County, the Board of Supervisors announced at the end of the event that they will fund a study that will look at the regional roads of significance and tackle the issues by reaching across the boundaries of city and county lines to provide solutions. I believe that much was accomplished throughout the entire day, but I cautioned that everyone needs to come to table and be ready to work. This conference formalized what we have been doing informally, and it was well worth it. But we need to make sure every player follows through so we can keep on making progress when it comes to our transportation solutions.
We do realize the incredible amount of traffic congestion that exists in the San Tan/Johnson Ranch area reaching northward into Apache Junction, Queen Creek, Maricopa County and Highway 60 and are actively working to solve the problems. The majority of the population in that area is trying to travel
to the northwest to get to work or retail centers.
As I am sure you are aware, currently there are three ways out:
#Hunt Highway to Ellsworth (Through Queen Creek);
#Ironwood/Gantzel Road (to Apache Junction);
# Hunt Highway to the east then proceeding on either Arizona Farms toward State Route 79 and Highway 60 (Through Gold Canyon and Apache Junction), or Attaway Road to Highway 287 (Through Chandler or Interstate 10)
# We are working on a fourth which is Gary Road North to Rittenhouse.
The County is currently working to add capacity to these roads through the following projects:
Hunt/Ellsworth/Empire intersections are being improved to widen the existing road (two travel lanes with a median for turning movements). One of the stop signs is being removed, and the 4 way stop at Empire will be replaced with a temporary traffic signal. The road widening will be completed by the end of February, with the signal to follow shortly.
Gary Road - from Hunt Highway to Rittenhouse. This project is also under construction and will allow for north south traffic to easily get to Rittenhouse Road. A developer is constructing that road with plans to have it open soon.
Ironwood/Gantzel Road is being widened from 2 to 4 lanes with a median for its entire 17.5 mile length. The section currently under construction is the portion for Combs to Ocotillo. Temporary lights have been installed at both Combs and Ocotillo to assist in traffic flow, and construction work is done at night in order to minimize traffic impacts. Our current problems in the area have stemmed from the failure of the signal at Combs, which resulted in the lights becoming a four way flash. This four way stop causes huge delays, with backups of 4 miles common. The Sheriff's office will station a deputy at that intersection until the signal is repaired and fully functional. Further information about the Ironwood project is available at www.ironwoodproject.com.
Other development required work. Each developer is required to make improvements to off-site roads that adjoin and provide access to their property. They are also required to contribute to regional roads with what is call a stipulated impact fee for each house that is built. The roadway work is permitted through the County. We strive to reduce their permitted time, require night-time work, as well as make sure traffic can continue to flow during construction. However, construction work does impact drivers. It is a necessity or we would not get the needed improvements and additional capacity. This work seems to be constant along the Hunt Highway corridor - it is a by product of the rapid development of the area.
We also had to close the bridge over the Queen Creek at Schnepf Road after severe erosion caused a loss of support to the bridge. We are currently seeking a fix to the cause of the erosion, and will reconstruct the bridge after we are assured that further erosion will not cause problems. It is our hope to settle that issue this spring, and then move rapidly to get the bridge replaced. In the meantime, we are working to open another crossing of the Queen Creek along the Kenworthy alignment. The contract to complete that work will be completed in April 2006.
We know that none of this happens quickly enough. There are a myriad of issues to work through on every road project. Most significant among these are acquiring rights-of-way and relocating utilities - often up to 20% of the project cost. The Ironwood project includes dealing with multiple private land owners and State Land - where we must purchase the land at current prices; working around and with several utilities - private irrigation systems, water, wastewater, cable, telephone, Salt River Project. We also have federally owned utilities and easements that must agree with our plans including Western Area Power and the Central Arizona Project. Additionally the road goes through the City of Apache Junction, so we must obtain an Intergovernmental Agreement with them.
Other projects have similar issues - Gary Road ends in Maricopa County, so we must obtain their approvals. The Ellsworth and Empire intersection is shared among the Town of Queen Creek, Maricopa County, and Pinal County - so those improvements are also jointly agreed to and funded.