Light rail construction is f*cking up traffic everywhere in Phoenix

ROADWORK EVERYWHERE Light-rail, repaving, building projects bring restrictions

Bob Golfen The Arizona Republic Mar. 5, 2006 12:00 AM

Central Avenue is like an obstacle course these days.

Blame light-rail construction for the phalanx of orange cones and barricades that clog traffic on the main artery through downtown Phoenix and nearly everywhere else on the 20-mile route.

Roadwork for light rail may be the most intrusive project in Phoenix, but the route is hardly the only place where the streets are torn up. Seems like anywhere you turn in the city or the Valley, roads are restricted or the way is blocked by construction equipment.

While sewer projects and road repavings and expansions are blocking some routes in Phoenix and the Valley, drivers also are affected by major building projects, such as the Phoenix Convention Center, formerly Civic Plaza.

"We have roadwork happening all over the city, not just downtown," said Sina Matthes, spokeswoman for the Phoenix Streets Department. "But when you have the Civic Plaza (expansion construction) and light rail happening at the same time, that adds a lot of construction work."

Matthes said her commute to City Hall has become an adventure.

Meanwhile, Third Avenue north of Thomas Road has been blocked for weeks while city workers prepare underground utilities for expansion of St. Joseph's Medical Center.

Downtowns are torn up all over the Valley. Chandler and Glendale are enduring lengthy expansion projects in their downtowns, while booming Gilbert seems to be in a constant state of construction.

And coming this spring, the continuing saga of rubberized-asphalt paving gets under way as the weather warms enough for Arizona Department of Transportation crews to apply a layer to the Valley's freeways.

Already, Loop 202 through east Phoenix and Tempe has been restricted for two successive weekends, including this weekend, while crews prepare the highway for application of the black surface. The repaving is part of ADOT's $34 million Quiet Pavement project to coat 115 miles of Valley freeways with rubberized asphalt.

The program, being watched closely by federal highway officials, is the first effort nationwide to add the asphalt purely for noise reduction in an urban area. Rubberized asphalt creates a smooth, seamless surface that lessens tire noise, benefiting both drivers and nearby neighborhoods.

Loop 202 will be ADOT's repaving focus starting in April, said Doug Nintzel, spokesman for ADOT.

"The Red Mountain Freeway (Loop 202) is our freeway of choice for the spring season," Nintzel said. "There's going to be a number of weekends where you're going to need to avoid the area between 52nd Street and Alma School Road."

Meanwhile, construction to widen U.S. 60, the Superstition Freeway, between Gilbert and Power roads is well under way, restricting traffic for now but adding additional lanes due to open in Spring 2007.

The U.S. 60 work is part of a maelstrom of road construction affecting the southeast Valley as new development overburdens rural roads. Gilbert receives an estimated 1,000 new residents a month, leaving the town scrambling to widen two-lane country roads to six-lane thoroughfares. The population of the former farming community has grown to more than 178,000.

Adding more pressure is growth in Queen Creek and Pinal County. Residents from those growing communities use Gilbert roads to access freeways during rush hours, creating nightmarish backups along some stretches.

Gilbert resident Rick Shumway, a real estate agent based in Mesa, travels some of the most hamstrung roads every day. The sea of traffic barricades can be confusing and frustrating, he said.

"You come to a spot (and wonder), which way are you going to go?" said Shumway, 60.

Despite motorist frustration, officials say Gilbert is doing all it can to catch up with growth.

"I don't know if we had $200 million available today that we could build any more roads any faster, because everyone else in the Valley is doing it," Gilbert Vice Mayor Les Presmyk said.

In nearby Chandler, the main intersection at Arizona Avenue and Chandler Boulevard has been undergoing major construction since the summer, aggravating motorists and worrying business owners.

"I'm sure businesses have been affected, but they are very positive and very patient," said Jennifer Morrison, Chandler's acting downtown coordinator.

The end's in sight for Chandler, with construction due for completion in April.

Downtown Glendale already has seen some relief from major construction by ADOT to create an underpass for Grand Avenue at Glendale Avenue. The bridge carrying Glendale Avenue has opened, providing access to downtown, although travelers on Grand still must find creative ways to steer around the project, which began in May.

The new Grand underpass is not expected to be open to traffic until early July.

Merchants feared a financial hit during the construction, but city sales-tax figures show downtown businesses did not suffer as much as people had feared.

"I couldn't feel any impact at all," said Karen Landes, owner of the Apple Tree, an antique and home-dcor store in downtown Glendale.

The underpass is the final piece of a five-year, nearly $100 million makeover of Grand Avenue to eliminate the six-point intersections along a nine-mile stretch from Phoenix to Peoria.

Scottsdale drivers are contending with two major road projects that clog traffic on Hayden Road. At McDonald Drive, lanes have been restricted and left turns prohibited since November in a $2.8 million project to improve the bridge and intersection and add new 48-inch storm drains. The project is due for completion in July.

Another driver-challenging project is between Cactus Road to north of Redfield Road, where Hayden traffic is reduced to one lane in each direction while crews work to add traffic and bike lanes and landscaping to the busy road. Started in August, the $8.4 million project should be completed in September.

Staff reporters Diana Balazs, Edythe Jensen, Mike Walbert and Brent Whiting contributed to this article.

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