June 8, 2005 - Marana will get a hefty boost with several near-future road improvement projects under a draft plan approved by the Regional Transportation Authority's technical and management committee last week.
The committee met June 1 and unanimously approved a draft list of 30 regional road improvement projects in Pima County with an estimated cost of $1.15 billion. The projects, including five proposed by Marana, will now undergo review from a 35-member citizens' advisory committee.
"Each community kind of brought up their wish list, and what's going on right now is a fairly involved process," said Jim DeGrood, executive assistant to the town manager and Marana's representative on the RTA transportation planning committee. "A lot of things are happening on a lot of different levels. That citizens' committee may come up with something completely different, but the objective is to have, at the end of the summer, a list of projects that we can start taking out to the public."
The proposed projects are part of a $1.95 billion transportation package that tentatively includes about $450 million in transit upgrades and another $300 million in various spot projects - all of which are expected to be approved in draft form as early as June 29.
The Pima Association of Governments, which functions as the RTA under state law, will put the proposed plan before voters in a May 2006 election. Voters will be asked to give their approval of a countywide half-cent sales tax to finance the road improvements over a 20-year period.
The current draft plan is a result of regular committee meetings during the past six months in which representatives from local jurisdictions have collaborated and discussed priorities to enhance regional transportation. The RTA's vision is to create a transportation system with cross-town mobility improvements, reduced congestion, improved safety and alternative choices of travel with bike and pedestrian pathways.
Town Manager Mike Reuwsaat, Marana's jurisdictional representative on the 22-member management and technical committee, said the projects Marana has on the table will meet the needs of future growth.
At the top of Marana's wish list is the creation of the new Twin Peaks Road interchange at Interstate 10, a $60.4 million project expected to begin next year. The project also includes tying a four-lane Twin Peaks Road from Silverbell Road over to the freeway. The town estimates having $40 million in committed funds for the project, leaving the RTA's cost at about $20.4 million.
Also tying into the new interchange system, the second priority on Marana's wish list includes extending Camino de Mañana north from Linda Vista Boulevard to Tangerine Road, creating a new main route to keep up with growth in Dove Mountain. Under the RTA's draft plan, Camino de Mañana will be two and four lanes and will connect Dove Mountain to the interchange at a total cost of $20.4 million. The town has proposed $7.4 million in committed funds, leaving the RTA cost at $13 million.
Right now Camino de Mañana is merely a chip-sealed road that tends to flood easily. The road will be designed this year and will be built shortly after the Twin Peaks interchange is finished, probably in 2008, DeGrood said.
But as many know, with road improvements come the inevitable growing pains associated with temporary traffic burdens.
Radical changes to the Ina Road interchange and construction of a new bridge, third on Marana's RTA wish list, are expected to cause the greatest amount of grief.
In 2008, grade changes and construction of a new overpass at the Ina Road interchange will allow traffic to cross over the freeway, instead of under it, similar to the interchange at Miracle Mile, DeGrood said.
"We can't go underneath the railroad tracks and underneath the freeway like at Orange Grove, because there's too much drainage in the area and it'll flood," he said.
The total cost is estimated at $49.2 million, $29 million of which the RTA will contribute. The project could take up to two years to complete, which could be a burden on local businesses and commuters in the area.
"It'll be a hassle, no question. That's why it's so much money," DeGrood said. "To do a normal interchange brand-new is only about $15 to $20 million, and we're looking at $49 million."
During construction, DeGrood said the town will probably recommend closing Ina from the Santa Cruz River to the freeway with traffic detours to the Orange Grove or Cortaro Road interchanges.
In conjunction with the interchange reconstruction, the town will be doing its own improvements, widening Ina from I-10 to the Cañada del Oro wash and creating a six-lane roadway with added sidewalks, landscaping and multiuse lanes.
"We figured, if you're going to screw up the access through there, why not just do it once? At least that way we can time them all together," DeGrood said.
The town also plans on replacing the old Ina Road bridge over the Santa Cruz River, which isn't built to modern-day standards and could be lost in a flood, DeGrood said.
Because the Ina Road wastewater treatment plant discharges effluent into the Santa Cruz River directly under the bridge, DeGrood said, dikes would have to be put up to contain that water while the 25-foot steel rails are removed from the sand and new 70- to 90-foot shafts are dug deep into the ground.
Another project included in the RTA plan, fourth on Marana's priority list, is the widening of Tangerine Road, which will become a four-lane roadway from I-10 to La Cañada Drive. The $93.6 million project would cost the RTA $71.2 million after committed funds and goes along with the intent of the RTA's plan to create a regional system of long corridor travel.
Tangerine Road already is scheduled for an increase to four lanes next year in Oro Valley, between Oracle and First Avenue, with a completion date of March 2006. That project already has been contracted and is not included in the RTA's proposal.
Improvements to Silverbell Road are included in the RTA plan, after having been proposed by Pima County, Tucson and Marana. According to the draft plan, Silverbell will be widened to three and four lanes between Grant and Ina roads. The RTA will pick up $43.7 million of the $47.4 million cost.
DeGrood said Marana has not thrown any money at the Silverbell Road project because it wasn't the town's highest priority, but it will help with drainage issues. Silverbell was Marana's last priority of the five approved projects.
"We do have problems with the drainage, so what we're saying is, 'Hey, if you're going to do a big long corridor piece, let's do bike lanes, let's do center lane turn lanes, let's do storm drains and get the water under the road, so every time it rains people don't have to fear getting washed into the Santa Cruz,'" DeGrood said.
Just south of the town's borders, Marana has proposed reconstruction of the wrecked Sunset Road bridge over the Santa Cruz River, which was washed out by the floods of 1983, leaving the Sunset Road interchange at I-10 heavily underused. Because the bridge was never replaced after the floods, the area is little more than a mess of dirt and is not open for travel anymore.
DeGrood said town staff proposed the idea at RTA meetings thinking it could help regionally. The project picked up support in committee meetings and is now included in the draft plan. At a cost of about $7.4 million, Sunset Road would extend from Silverbell to I-10 and connect to River Road, which would give commuters on River Road the option of hopping on the freeway at Sunset instead of going up to Orange Grove.
"We did some traffic modeling and said, 'Hey, we could build the Sunset Road bridge in, take advantage of an interchange that's already built that nobody ties into, and that could get people on the freeway system right away,'" DeGrood said.
Several of Marana's original proposals are not included in the approved draft plan. DeGrood said the town scaled back its original $400 million wish list because it was probably asking for an unrealistic chunk of the $1.95 billion pool.
Improvements to Ina Road from I-10 to Camino de la Tierra were included in an earlier priority list but were not included in last week's plan. A winding extension of Tangerine from I-10 to Avra Valley Road also was a priority for Marana but was not included.
A late addition to the RTA draft plan, outside of Marana's boundaries, includes the widening of Magee Road to four lanes from Thornydale to Oracle with realignment at La Cholla Boulevard, which DeGrood said could really help traffic flow in the area.
The RTA Board is expected to give approval of a final draft plan as early as June 29, initiating the public input process. Meetings will continue through August as final cost estimates are prepared by an outside consultant.
The RTA Board is then expected to give final approval of the finished plan Sept. 28 with formal support from local jurisdictions to follow. The plan and half-cent sales tax will then go to the voters in the form of a referendum May 16, 2006.
However, committees still must prioritize and choose from a long list of about $1 billion in transit options that includes increased service hours, frequency of service and additions of circulator and express buses.
Marana could potentially see the addition of a circulator bus and an express bus within its boundaries under current proposals. According to PAG, a circulator bus into Marana would cost $10.5 million and an express bus would cost about $6.1 million, including direct trips between Continental Ranch and downtown Tucson.
Transit issues were expected to be a large topic of discussion at this week's citizens' advisory committee meeting.
Former Marana Town Manager Hurvie Davis, who is a Marana representative on the 35-member citizen committee, said the downside is that a mere half-cent sales tax will only accomplish a portion of the many projects needed in the region and doesn't include what the "average person" wants.
"Most of them want to see some crosstown facilities across the region," he said. "Unfortunately, I don't think that's part of the plan, and, to tell you the truth, I've been here about 30 years now and it probably won't ever be part of the plan. The projects forthcoming are really the best ones we can offer."
Davis, who plans to seek the opening vacancy on Marana's town council, added that he fully supports each of the Marana projects that are on the table.
"I feel those are really needed, every one of them," he said. "It'll be a big shot in the arm for Marana and enable us to get some of the facilities underway before the town ever could using the existing sources of funding."
Katie Dusenberry, vice chairwoman of the citizens' advisory committee, said many citizens are still looking for a spark that will get voters fired up to pass the half-cent sales tax. As it stands now, she said, not much has been offered in that regard.
"They felt the spark wasn't there. There was nothing that showed a vision of improving our transportation plans," she said. "Yes, you were looking at mobility and congestion and so forth, but there wasn't anything that the voters would really find exciting to get them out to vote.
"We've been hearing so much about a loop system like Phoenix has," she added. "If we can just have a limited access road that can take us around the community or across the community, that would be very exciting."
County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry, chairman of the technical and management committee, said some projects that were controversial have been dropped from plans, including the widening of River Road to six lanes from Orange Grove to Campbell because it goes through residential areas.
In the past several months, many residents have spoken up against the committee for not including improvements to Snyder Road in Tucson. According to residents, who have cited traffic studies to back their claims, the creation of a Snyder Road bridge could save one human life every two years and prevent more than 200 accidents every year.
Meanwhile, projects such as the $10 million widening of First Avenue to four lanes from Orange Grove to Ina Road have been added with the idea of emphasizing long corridor travel.
During the next 20 years, PAG estimates Pima County will see a 67 percent increase in transit trips, a 71 percent increase in auto trips and a 94 percent increase in vehicle miles traveled with a 134 percent increase in vehicle hours of travel. PAG suggests there will be a 336 percent increase in travel congestion overall.
With state gas tax rates virtually unchanged for 20 years and state laws limiting funding options, PAG estimates the region will be short $4 billion for transportation over the next 20 years.
PAG's regional council doubles as the RTA Board, which consists of a coalition of representatives from Pima County, South Tucson, Tucson, Oro Valley, Marana, Sahuarita, the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, the Tohono O'odham Nation and the Arizona State Transportation Board.
In 2003, Gov. Janet Napolitano signed legislation that enables PAG to fully function as the RTA. Originally designated as an RTA in 1990, PAG's ability to submit transportation plans to voters and seek approval of sales tax increases expired in 1992.