Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Interim Post: How About that Freeway?

It seems that the powers that be in Ahwatukee are back at work to oppose our beloved Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway again. And they should be since it's one of, if not the, largest public works projects awaiting funding in Arizona. And that means that it would be a great target for federal stimulus dollars because it has the ability to create so many local jobs for our deeply impacted construction workers.

So what do they offer as an alternative? A parkway. Yes, that's right--a Michigan style parkway that has intersections, but no left turns. This is hardly a compromise, when you consider the following:

1) Insufficient capacity relief for cross-Phoenix traffic.
2) More frequent stops for regional and local traffic, which means more air and noise pollution.
3) No left turns means greater trip distances for local traffic.
4) Greater regional traffic overflow onto neighboring residential streets.
5) Insufficient relief for Ahwatukee residents' complaints.

At the end of the day, we know that the right answer is to build the freeway. It's clear that ADOT and MAG have convinced Ahwatukee community leaders and other local holdouts that some kind of bypass is needed. So I can't imagine why these same leaders have reverted to a proposed plan that we already turned down back in 2003.

Here's the original article, from Ahwatukee Foothills News:

Parkway may edge out freeway for Loop 202

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Ahwatukee Foothills News

The idea of parkways replacing freeways is starting to gain some traction in Arizona's transportation community, mainly due to massive budget woes, more than $5 billion in Maricopa County alone, that make traditional freeways too expensive.

And the South Mountain Loop 202 may be the guinea pig in the parkway debate.

"We still have to make certain we're in a situation where we don't create more problems than we solve," said Bob Hazlett, a senior traffic engineer with the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG), who said there still needs to be a lot of study on the parkway concept.

The idea is to duplicate what is commonly called a "Michigan parkway" design, where traffic isn't allowed to make left turns at intersections. (See an example here.)

Instead, motorists travel past the intersection, then move into a turn lane in the median, where they in effect complete a U-turn then move to the right and exit onto the cross street, thanks to the large gaps in traffic that the no-left turn rule creates.

An added benefit to a parkway, Hazlett said, is that by eliminating left turns at intersections, the number of crashes are reduced because there are only 16 possible movements at an intersection instead of 32.

While a parkway isn't a magic bullet in the transportation engineer's arsenal, it does have advantages, including:

* Less land is needed because there are fewer lanes and water retention can be contained in the 60-foot-wide median.

* They generally require basic signalized intersections instead of expensive on and off ramps, as long as traffic volumes are low on the cross streets.

* A parkway carries more traffic per day than an equally sized surface street because there are fewer delays due to no left turns.

"I like the concept," said Councilman Sal DiCiccio, although he wants more details.

Jim Jochim, an opponent of the Loop 202 on Pecos Road, is wary of the parkway substitute because he said there are many questions that haven't been answered, including:

* How a parkway would cut through ridges in South Mountain Park that the Gila River Indian Community consider sacred.

* How a parkway with 90,000 vehicles a day could fill the requirements for a freeway that the Arizona Department of Transportation said was needed to carry an estimated 190,000 vehicles a day.

* What impact a parkway would have on schools that back onto or are within a block of two of the proposed road.

Hazlett also admits there are questions that need studying.

The Pecos Road stretch of the proposed Loop 202 has no cross traffic. So if signals are installed preventing left turns from 32nd Street or 40th Street onto Pecos Road it would seem superfluous.

At the same time, there are major streets, including Van Buren Street and Lower Buckeye Road, that cross the proposed Loop 202 in the West Valley that would require the more expensive traditional freeway interchanges.

But it's not clear if even a parkway design can cut the cost enough to save the Loop 202.

Originally priced at just under $1 billion, by 2003 it was up to $1.1 billion and is now estimated to cost $2.4 billion, a 40 percent increase in two years and a 120 percent increase in roughly five years.

And with all projects in the voter-approved Proposition 400 more expensive than expected, some projects may have to be abandoned.

MAG will look at the transportation projects included in Proposition 400 and consider maintaining the current schedule, but extending it over more than the original 20-year timeline, reducing the scope of projects or blending both ideas.

Hazlett said a final decision on revamping the Valley's transposition plan may not come until fall.

Then the Arizona Department of Transportation would need to re-write some portions of a draft environmental impact statement it has been working on over the past few years to take into account any changes to the scope and design of the Loop 202 before asking for federal approval and seeking public comment.

1 comment:

Patrick said...

I've apparently been slacking. Here's a prior article from azcentral.com:

Planners envision down-sized South Mountain bypass

36 comments by Kerry Fehr-Snyder - Jan. 27, 2009 07:30 AM
The Arizona Republic

Support appears to be growing for downsizing the proposed South Mountain Freeway by turning it into a parkway instead.

If the South Mountain Freeway is downsized to a parkway, it would mean fewer interchanges and fewer lanes. It also would preclude expanding the number of lanes to 10 from six as originally planned.

The proposal comes as freeway planners look for ways to balance a $5.3 billion shortfall in the 20-year transportation plan. The shortfall comes from falling sales tax revenue in Proposition 400 combined with rising construction costs.


"We're down 14 of the past 15 months" in revenue, Eric Anderson, transportation director for the Maricopa Association of Governments, told members of its Transportation Policy Committee last week.

"We haven't found a bottom of the downturn yet."

The 22-mile South Mountain Freeway in Ahwatukee and west Phoenix is still in the planning stage. One of the biggest expenses is for the freeway's right-of-way land, which is estimated to cost $1.1 billion of the $2.6 billion price tag.

Those costs would allow the Arizona Department of Transportation to buy 250 to 500 homes and a church that lay in the path of the proposed route along Pecos Road. The freeway would cut through a portion of the South Mountain Preserve and connect to 55th Avenue before linking to Interstate 10 in the west Valley.

"It would be a stretch to build the facility as its being thought of today," Anderson said.

MAG has not yet determined how much building a parkway would cost compared with a freeway, although it has developed some estimates.

The freeway would cost between $90 million and $120 million per mile and carry 140,000 vehicles per day, according to MAG estimates. A parkway would cost $20 million to $40 million per mile and carry 90,000 vehicles per day.

"What we find very compelling about these facilities ... is the crash rate is significantly lower," said Bob Hazlett, MAG's senior engineer.

The average crash rate per 1 million miles on a parkway is 0.5 compared with 1.7 on a freeway, according to MAG data gathered from other cities with parkways.

"This may be a blessing in disguise," Anderson said.

MAG's Transportation Policy Committee, which is comprised of Valley mayors and other representatives, are trying to recommend cuts in the 20-year transportation plan.

"This is a more dynamic process than we expected in the summer," Anderson said. "Some of these decisions, say on a South Mountain Parkway, are really permanent. We want to make sure we're doing the right thing today and for the future."

Goodyear Mayor James Cavanaugh said he likes the idea of a parkway.

"The political issues down there are so substantial," he said. "I fear we'd be in court for years."

Freeway foes have said they plan to file a suit to block construction of the corridor if it is approved by the Federal Highway Administration and funded by MAG.

Chad Blostone, an Ahwatukee resident involved in the debate, said he doesn't know if a parkway would appease opponents or make the threat of a lawsuit go away.

"I'm not strictly taking a 'no build' position," he said. "But I think the parkway would need to be engineered so that the costs of building it are offset by the benefits of improving traffic flow."