transportation needs can't be put off
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 18, 2006 12:00 AM
50 people showed up at the county library in Gilbert last Tuesday to hear about
the state's transportation plans in the far Southeast Valley and Pinal County -
but we all will feel the effects of the looming crisis there. We'd better start
Right now, the crisis mainly affects a few thousand people in northern Pinal
County and the Queen Creek and Gilbert areas. The problem is that developers are
rolling out subdivisions even though the roads and highways in the area are
inadequate to handle the traffic. Hordes of motorists get stuck in long lines on
what essentially are two-lane farm roads that a few years ago handled a few
dozen cars and maybe a tractor or two in a hour.
While residents of the far Southeast Valley are hot under the collar, the rest
of us tend to shake our heads and figure it's their problem. But their problem
soon will be our problem. That's because the Southeast Valley's freeway system,
which is still not finished, was designed to handle the growth of eastern
Maricopa County, not the explosive growth now occurring in Pinal County.
In short, many of the
1.5 million people that the Arizona Department of Transportation expects will
move into the far Southeast Valley over the next 30 years will be sharing the
freeways that you drive on in Gilbert, Chandler, Mesa, Tempe and Phoenix.
Although Maricopa County voters in November 2004 approved extending the Valley's
half-cent transportation tax for an additional 20 years to complete our freeway
system and expand mass transit, it won't cover the looming transportation needs
in the far Southeast Valley.
Dale Buskirk, ADOT's director of planning, told those attending last Tuesday's
meeting that extending the freeway system into Pinal County and widening
existing state highways will cost about $6 billion. There is no existing funding
source for that. Meanwhile, Buskirk noted, construction costs are skyrocketing.
And here's another catch: Even if roads are miraculously built and widened in
Pinal County over the next few years, that will only mean heavier traffic in the
communities closer to Phoenix.
So what should we do?
Voters in Queen Creek and Pinal County will provide part of the answer during
upcoming local elections. Though turnout in municipal and county elections is
usually low, growth-related crises always bring out the voters - and they
usually vote for change. One way or the other, local governments need to figure
out how to fix the worst traffic bottlenecks - pronto.
Second, the Legislature must take up the question of how to pay for the $6
billion state plan. The political future of lawmakers representing this
high-growth area may well depend on how forcefully they address this issue.
Third, ADOT must complete Loop 202 around South Mountain. Preferably, the Gila
River Indian Community will recognize the economic development potential of this
freeway leg and agree to a route on the reservation. If not, the Pecos Road
alignment is the only feasible alternative to getting interstate traffic out of
downtown Phoenix to make room for more commuters.
Fourth, we need to get serious about the enormous potential of commuter rail to
reduce the load on our freeway system. Union Pacific Railway tracks now run from
downtown Phoenix southeastward right through our growth corridor, all the way to
Tucson. It would take a big investment to expand the rail system's capacity to
handle commuter as well as freight trains, but not making that investment would
end up being far more costly.
Regardless of where you live in the Southeast Valley, you literally cannot
afford to ignore this issue.
Bob Schuster is Southeast Valley editorial
page editor for The Arizona Republic.