Finding Solutions to Gridlock
West Valley looks to improve transportation efforts
By Debra Gelbart
Transportation issues affect the entire Valley of the Sun, of course, but they are particularly weighty in the West Valley, where lack of sufficient freeway miles and the dearth of motorist-friendly roadways are taking a toll on commerce, economic development, tempers and safety. “We simply don’t have the freeway miles that the East Valley does,” says Glendale Mayor Elaine Scruggs, who also chairs the Maricopa Association of Government’s (MAG) Transportation Policy Committee. “In the West Valley, we have too many people traveling on arterial streets, which hurts the quality of life within a city.”
She says other areas of the Valley are able to concentrate on different aspects of transportation besides freeways. “Phoenix is focused on building light rail and expanding bus service. The East Valley is improving arterial streets,” she says. “But here in the West Valley, we’re still trying to get enough freeways to manage our explosive growth.”
It’s more than just an issue of convenience. “The seven-mile stretch of Interstate 10 that passes through the city of Goodyear—between Perryville Road on the west and Dysart Road on the east—is a major corridor of commerce for products from Asian manufacturing centers off-loaded at the Los Angeles ports,” says Goodyear Mayor Jim Cavanaugh, “and because of the narrowing of the freeway here [there are only two lanes in each direction], traffic backs up terribly. We’ve investigated and found that these seven miles have 10 times the number of traffic fatalities compared with the national average for the 2,500 miles of Interstate 10 across the nation. And we know that this leg of I-10 accounts for 35 percent of all traffic fatalities on I-10 within metropolitan Phoenix.”
The reality is that the commute from the West Valley to Phoenix has become unbearable, says Jay Ellingson, vice president of land development for SunCor, developer of the master planned community of Palm Valley. In January, Ellingson will become chair of WESTMARC, the Western Maricopa Coalition, which brings together representatives of business, 13 local governments and educational organizations to advocate for sound public policy in the West Valley. “We’re just not given the attention we deserve by employers and educational institutions,” Scruggs says, “in part because it’s difficult to travel from and through the West Valley because of so few freeway miles.”
Cavanaugh has been instrumental in securing relief for the congestion on I-10. Originally, I-10 between Dysart Road and the Loop 303 at Cotton Lane was not supposed to be widened until 2011. But because of the efforts of Cavanaugh, other Goodyear officials, leaders from the cities of Avondale, Buckeye, Litchfield Park, MAG and the Arizona Department of Transportation, the widening project will now get under way in 2007. “By late 2008, we will have four lanes in each direction,” Cavanaugh says. “By early 2010, we’ll have five lanes in each direction.”
Jack Lunsford, president and CEO of WESTMARC, says accelerating the widening of I-10 will have a dramatic effect on businesses. “If your people are sitting in traffic for an extra half hour at any given time, that results in a decrease in productivity,” he adds.
Accelerating the widening of I-10 is critical for the people who live in the West Valley, adds John Bradley, general manager of Verrado, DMB’s master planned community in Buckeye. The residents of Verrado may be able to look forward to the I-10 widening from Loop 303 to State Route 85 possibly beginning in 2013 rather than 2023, as originally planned. Currently about 2,000 people live in Verrado; at build-out in 2017 it’s expected to be home to as many as 30,000 residents.
The widening of I-10 is one of three freeway projects that will affect the West Valley. Another is extending Loop 202 from I-10 linking I-10 in the West Valley to I-10 in the Southeast Valley. Construction would start in 2009 and finish in 2015.
The third freeway project affecting the West Valley is construction of Loop 303, located about 10 of miles west of Loop 101 and currently a two-lane roadway extending from McDowell Road to Grand Avenue in Surprise. Future construction of what will be called the Estrella Freeway will link Interstates 10 and 17 in the far West Valley, but the six-lane freeway won’t be completed until about 2014. “All of these projects are vital now to moving traffic more efficiently and effectively in and around our West Valley cities,” Lunsford says, “and they will be critical in the West Valley’s ability to accommodate and manage future growth.”
Scruggs says the West Valley’s time in the spotlight is overdue. “The West Valley still isn’t recognized for the role it plays in Maricopa County,” she says. “The center of the Valley is shifting westward, to right around Loop 101 and Glendale Avenue. The way the West Valley is perceived will begin to change when we get the freeways we need.”