Many residents in the south East Valley are eager to see proposed roads and freeways to ease congestion in the area with one notable exception: Hunt Highway.
Two separate projects are being considered along Hunt to serve the booming area on the boundary of Maricopa and Pinal counties.
One possible project would involve Gilbert expanding Hunt to six lanes in the Chandler Heights area. Also, the Arizona Department of Transportation is studying a regional corridor on or near the Hunt alignment, from Interstate 10 to U.S. 60 near Florence Junction. That study could result in a road, expressway, freeway — or nothing.
Though several major new roads or freeways are under study near the county line, the potential Hunt improvements are the most controversial because many rural neighborhoods line Hunt Highway. Residents have spoken out against any expansion as transportation planners have turned to the public in recent weeks for input.
"Looking at the Hunt is just not acceptable," said Gordon Brown, a Pinal County resident who has followed the issue. "It would destroy neighborhoods in the Chandler Heights area."
The same problem would happen in Queen Creek, Brown said, where developments are full of residents who oppose city amenities such as shopping centers, wide roads and freeway access. Those neighborhoods fear commercial development would follow wider roads and destroy the area’s rural character.
Transportation officials recognize they will have difficulties making any improvements. ADOT doesn’t want to disrupt neighborhoods, said Dianne Kresich, an ADOT regional planner who is studying the Hunt corridor.
"This severely limits what we can do," Kresich said.
To build a road, officials would have to make costly real estate purchases where homes line Hunt. Or they would have to build in the Gila River Indian Community, which may also oppose a road and charge high prices for the land.
ADOT will take the rest of the year to figure out what improvements — if any — are needed along Hunt. Gilbert will wait for that study to see how that might affect the town’s long-standing plans for a wider Hunt Highway, town spokesman Greg Svelund said.
Even if the town does decide to widen the road, it doesn’t have funds for it in the next five years. And Chandler Heights residents would have to agree to annexation, Svelund said.
Pinal County Supervisor Sandie Smith opposes a freeway along Hunt because of the impact on neighborhoods.
"It shouldn’t aim right at people who are already there when you have other alternatives," Smith said.
Pinal County residents instead need more northsouth roads that meet U.S. 60, Smith said. If studies show a need for a major east-west road, Smith suggested building one north of Florence toward where state Route 387 intersects Interstate 10.