Since work began May 14, “most of the focus” on the 4.4-mile, $19.5 million Oracle Road widening project has been “up on the north end,” near Tangerine Road and the rising Oro Valley Marketplace retail center, according to Greg Gentsch, Arizona Department of Transportation Tucson district engineer.
“We want to mesh and build concurrently on the big development” at the southeast corner of Tangerine and Oracle, Gentsch told a recent breakfast audience of the Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce.
Vestar, developer of Oro Valley Marketplace, is contributing approximately $900,000 toward “enhancements” for access into the retail center from both Tangerine and Oracle roads. New traffic control signal lights are being installed on Oracle at the intersection with the entrance to Catalina State Park, and on Tangerine at Innovation Park Drive, ADOT spokeswoman Linda Ritter said.
ADOT and its contractor, Hunter Contracting, are further working to keep Oracle open as much as possible, particularly during rush hours, Gentsch said.
Most of the current construction is done at night.
Four lanes remain open from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily “unless special construction is warranted.
“We’re not closing lanes longer than we have to, we’re not impacting traffic during the peak hours,” said Gentsch, who talked about ADOT’s “very extensive public process to make sure the community knows, especially the business community,” about Oracle Road and other construction projects.
“We have tried to assimilate and respond properly as to how we wanted to handle traffic,” Gentsch said. “It’s a fine balance. It’s a tough job to communicate with the driving public” about construction activity. “And there is not a good alternate for all the traffic coming down 77. The road has to stay open.”
He encouraged public comment.
“It’s not a one-way street,” Gentsch said. “We’re not doing this in a vacuum. Everyone here is going to be part of that process. I’m glad the public and the community is paying attention to that kind of thing.”
When Oracle’s packed, it’s time for other routes
When it is completed sometime in winter 2009, Oracle Road from Tangerine to Calle Concordia in Oro Valley will have six lanes, three in each direction, and turn lanes.
Greg Gentsch, Tucson district engineer for the Arizona Department of Transportation, has already heard the concern that a third lane in each direction of Arizona Highway 77 won’t be enough to accommodate traffic.
If Oracle Road traffic exceeds the capacity of a six-lane system, “we need to find and make alternate routes,” Gentsch told a recent breakfast meeting of the Northern Pima County Chamber of Commerce.
“We can only cram so much traffic into one window” of movement, Gentsch said. Six lanes, with turning lanes, is “a pretty efficient form for a main street.
Gentsch, who started with ADOT in 1985, likened Tucson to Phoenix 20 years ago. If all traffic heads into a downtown from relatively few corridors, “how do you get around? We have to find another way to reconnect to our system through another route. Hence we build freeways, hence we build bypasses.”
What alternate routes could be developed off Oracle Road? Tangerine Road “is one of them,” he said.
Jim DeGrood, director of transportation services for the Pima Association of Governments, said Tangerine Road is one of the 35 projects “we have committed to build” within the May 2006 vote that directed a half-cent sales tax toward Regional Transportation Authority improvements.
Specifically, RTA expects to have $45 million available as soon as July 2011 to widen Tangerine from La Cañada to Interstate 10 into a “four-lane divided desert parkway with bike lanes, drainage and turn lanes.” It would be “a relatively high-speed facility with control of access,” DeGrood said.
Oro Valley’s widening of Tangerine between La Cañada and First Avenue “is consistent with that description,” DeGrood added. Tangerine Road from Oracle to First Avenue has been widened through two projects, one with regional funds and another with state funds.
The $45 million “is not adequate” for the entire Tangerine desert parkway project, DeGrood continued. “We had identified Tangerine Road would need at least $74 million to be constructed in that stretch. Local jurisdictions,” to include Oro Valley, Marana and Pima County, “need to come to the table with some of their own money,” DeGrood added.
Gentsch said widening of Oracle Road north of Tangerine Road to the Pinal County line is “a few years off,” and “a very important” improvement. “We want to get that one in the bag, too.”
That project “does have design money,” DOT spokeswoman Linda Ritter said. “It’s going to be a few years down the road. When it’s going to be constructed is a question.”
People who want e-mail alerts about traffic during the Oracle Road improvement project can get them.
“As your name is added to the alert database, you will begin receiving updated travel information about Oracle Road,” an Arizona Department of Transportation release said.
Hunter Contracting is the general contractor. The project is expected to last 18 months, with completion during the winter of 2009.