Ironwood Drive is where too many cars drive on too small a road patrolled by too few police cars. Too bad for residents of the far south East Valley.
Construction is under way on the 17-mile stretch of gridlock in Pinal County from U.S. 60 to the Hunt Highway.
By December 2006, the homely two-lane road will expand to four lanes with sidewalks and a median, complete with landscaping.
To unsnarl traffic for good, all that’s left to improve are Hunt Highway, Ellsworth, Rittenhouse and Ocotillo roads.
"There’s just so much to be done, you take it in segments" Queen Creek Mayor Wendy Feldman-Kerr said. "And sometimes it seems these small bites aren’t taking care of the problem fast enough."
The region is in the midst of a housing boom, dumping more and more vehicles on an already overwhelmed traffic grid. And while construction continues at a breakneck pace, it will be some time before the road and public safety infrastructures catch up.
Until then, drivers can choke on these numbers, along with the accumulating auto exhaust:
• In the past year, Pinal County sheriff ’s deputies working the beat encompassing Johnson Ranch and the outskirts of Queen Creek have responded to 720 crashes — almost two a day. Seven people died and 56 were injured.
• Since the beginning of 2005, Ironwood Drive has seen more than 70 crashes. A headon collision killed two on Aug. 11.
• These totals come despite a traffic safety campaign by the county. In a year, deputies made 1,700 traffic stops and issued 1,300 citations.
Yet, Sheriff Chris Vasquez admitted, "We didn’t even make a dent."
There could have been even more tickets issued if there were more officers available. Using the preferred ratio of 2.4 deputies to every 1,000 residents, the sheriff’s office noted the county significantly lags in manpower. Significantly, as in 128 deputies short of the standard.
As a near-term solution while Ironwood is being rebuilt, the contractor is paying for deputies to patrol the road and the surrounding neighborhood. Sundt Construction also erected temporary stoplights at the intersection of Ironwood and Ocotillo roads.
However, law enforcement is only one part of solving the traffic crunch. Engineers are needed.
The problem with Ironwood — and almost every other road in the area — is it simply wasn’t built for the number of cars it now handles. According to the county’s Public Works Department, in 1985 daily traffic on Ironwood was less than 600 vehicles; this April, the count was up to 25,000.
When Ironwood’s traffic versus its capacity is multiplied across the region, one gets the true picture of the task facing residents and planners.
"Queen Creek can’t do this alone," Dianne Kresich, a senior planner with the Arizona Department of Transportation, said during an open house on possible solutions to the area’s traffic. "ADOT can’t do this alone."