Widening of Oracle Road, State Highway 77, between Tangerine Road and the Pinal County line should begin in late 2011, and continue through 2013, state and federal officials told more than 150 residents at a public information open house last week at Coronado School.
The 5.6-mile project is on the Arizona Department of Transportation’s five-year plan, at an estimated preliminary construction cost of $32.7 million.
Visitors studied maps, and spoke with agency representatives about wildlife migration, noise, bicycle lanes, traffic flow through Catalina and other issues on Tuesday, Jan. 27.
“Your contribution here is very, very important,” ADOT spokeswoman Linda Ritter told the audience. “We appreciate your feedback, questions and comments.”
Comments and questions were accepted Tuesday. People who want to make official public comments may do so through Feb. 27. “We take them very seriously,” Ritter said. They’ll be compiled after that date, with the current project study due for completion this spring. ADOT expects to select a final design this year.
Last week’s meeting on the project was the first of its kind on the project since June 2005. More meetings are planned as studies progress.
Oracle would be widened from four to six lanes, with one lane added on the outside to each of the current north and south courses. Each lane would be 12 feet wide, with additional shoulders. Sufficient right-of-way is held by ADOT.
“Projections show if the roadway is left as it is, it would not operate well at all at the target date, 2030,” said Mark Gilliland, study manager for the consulting firm, Aztec Engineering. “It would be gridlock.”
Projections are based upon traffic data from ADOT and the Pima Association of Governments, both expecting annual growth rates of 3 percent. Estimates do incorporate potential growth in southern Pinal County.
No new traffic signals would be added between Tangerine and Oracle Junction. There would be right turn lane improvements.
Engineers are recommending the installation of so-called “raised islands,” or medians, to move traffic in and through the Catalina business district. Center medians would direct motorists to left-hand turn lanes and openings.
“Raised medians with left turn lanes can reduce the number of conflicts and potential crashes,” Gilliland said. One estimate shows a 40 percent reduction in crashes with raised medians.
Speed limits through Catalina were reduced to 45 mph in 1999. There are no plans to reduce speeds further on any stretch of the road.
If the Regional Transportation Authority provides funds, a wildlife crossing or “several crossings” would be created above or below Oracle between mileposts 84 and 85 just south of Catalina.
That reach of road dissects the planned wildlife corridor through the southern end of Arroyo Grande, with animals expected to move along that protected space between the Tortolita and Catalina mountain ranges.
ADOT seeks money from other sources to fund any wildlife linkages on the Tortolita – Catalina mountain link as it crosses the Oracle Road corridor. The agency intends for “seamless integration” of wildlife migration facilities into the upgrade, and it would form a wildlife connectivity technical advisory committee when the project enters final design.
Bruce Eilerts, statewide natural resources program manager for ADOT, said wildlife crossings “aren’t driven by statute or regulation,” hence there is no funding. And, he said, “if you don’t have regulatory agencies on your case, or a law, it’s going to be put off. … That’s why we’re looking at partnerships.”
“We truly are partners,” said Siobhan Nordhaugen, GIS and special projects consultant for ADOT. Federal and state agencies and environmental groups have “the same goal.”
The agency tries to be “proactive, and reduce wildlife and vehicle collisions,” Eilerts said.
“We don’t typically do a noise study this early, but we were asked,” Gilliland said.
This preliminary study does recommend noise mitigation, which may include noise barriers. “All residential areas are going to be analyzed for noise,” said Fred Garcia, ADOT noise and air specialist.
Noise mitigation cannot exceed more than $46,000 per home. Garcia estimated the project would have up to $4 million in noise mitigation budget.
Noise is significantly reduced when a barrier blocks residential line of sight to a roadway.
“You need a certain height to block a certain sound,” Garcia said.
Barrier height could affect the views of nearby residents. That’s part of the reason permission of adjacent landowners to build noise barriers is essential, he said.
“ADOT will not build a wall where a wall is not desired,” Garcia said, adding commercial landowners typically “do not desire a wall, because they want the exposure.”
At a future meeting, ADOT would identify proposed locations and heights for noise reduction barriers.
Rubberized asphalt would be placed upon the road surface, but it is “not considered as a mitigation measure by the Federal Highway Administration,” Gilliland said.
In what Gilliland calls “a significant improvement,” 10-foot shoulders for bicycles would be constructed south of Catalina to Tangerine. “It would be nice and smooth, the lower half of the project,” Gilliland said.
Seven-foot shoulders are planned through Catalina. The community is “more urban,” said Michael Sanders, ADOT senior transportation planner. Seven feet is “an increase from what we have now by a good five feet.”
Oracle has a high volume of bicycle traffic, and many people have commented on cycling lanes along the wider road, he said.
Any existing sidewalks would be replaced. There are no plans to add sidewalks, Gilliland said.
If local agencies have an interest in adding sidewalk, ADOT would require “an agreement with a local government agency to cover the cost,” he said.
To comment, contact:
Sue Parcells, Gordley Design Group. 2450 N. Tucson Blvd., Tucson, 85716. 327-6077, fax 327-04687, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or, Linda Ritter, ADOT. 1221 South 2nd Ave., Mail Drop T100, Tucson, 85713. 388-4266, fax 388-4255, e-mail email@example.com.
The web site: http://oracleroad.info.