In plotting out future north-south routes between Western Pinal County and Maricopa County, planners working on the Hidden Valley Transportation Framework study are stuck between a tribe and some sheep.
Presenting the progress made at the study during a March 3 meeting in Maricopa at the Global Water facility, Maricopa Association of Governments project manager Bob Hazlett said the study does not take into account any new routes or modifications to current routes over Indian lands. Instead, the study focuses on providing what the area will need for both transit and traffic concerns at build-out – an area that spans across Maricopa, the Gila River Indian Community, Ak-Chin Indian Community, unincorporated land in both Pinal and Maricopa counties as well as most of Casa Grande.
“We’ve involved both the Gila River and Ak-Chin tribes so as to understand how development is happening on Indian land,” Hazlett said. “Trying to get any more improvements on Gila River land is very tentative... and we need to respect their wishes.”
That leaves the major north-south corridor that will affect Maricopa as the proposed Hassayampa/Loop 303 Freeway that would connect the West Valley to Interstate 8. But that road, along with another proposed parkway that could follow roughly the same route, could be nixed before it begins as migration issues of bighorn sheep in that area will have to be resolved before any roads can be built.
The framework study has several alternatives on the table at this stage, with two different transit levels and three different road-improvement levels up for debate. Options range from a minimal impact to a maximum amount of high-capacity freeways and parkways connecting the area.
Taking into consideration a number of other completed plans on the state, county and municipal levels, the Hidden valley study also looks at the need for improved transit, offering possibilities for increase bus routes or a commuter rail system that would link Pinal and Maricopa counties.
DMJM Harris Project Consultant John McNamara said a conservative estimated cost for what the framework could recommend would exceed $40 billion, and warned this study was not the vehicle for putting transportation improvements in place right away. The framework study provides the basis for future plans – which can have funding plans attached – to embark on certain portions of the recommendations.
McNamara said many more discussions will ensue on how to raise the funds needed to pursue large-scale transportation projects in the future, separate from this study. He said an increase in the gas tax or changes in how development contributes to new transportation infrastructure would be discussions that would continue at a state level, but do not affect the recommendations this study will make.
“It’s best to get out there and figure out what we really need,” McNamara said.
The next phase of the study will take modeling the transportation proposals electronically and measuring carrying capacity and highlighting the pros and cons for each. The study of this area – which is 1.7 times bigger in size than metropolitan Phoenix – should be complete in August, Hazlett said.
For more information about the study, visit www.bqaz.com.