August 19, 2004
Gassing up his truck Tuesday, Gilbert resident Tyler Moreni looked out with disgust at the orange cones and barricades at Gilbert and Ray roads.
"It’s like California," Moreni, 19, said. "It takes too long to get everywhere."
It’s not the first time Gilbert police Lt. Joe Ruet has heard similar sentiments.
Ruet not only directs traffic on his days off, he is responsible for making sure there are enough off-duty officers helping drivers get through the town’s many construction areas.
"We’re the quickest-growing community in the West and with that comes construction," Ruet said. "We’re just doing the best we can to keep the traffic flowing."
On Wednesday, 16 Gilbert off-duty officers spent at least a portion of their day directing traffic.
Most were assigned to intersections along Higley Road. A handful spent the entire day on either Val Vista Drive near Germann Road or at Gilbert and Ray roads.
Gilbert roads are a mess right now for a variety of reasons. Not only has the construction of a hospital forced the closure of parts of Val Vista, but voters in May 2003 approved an $80 million bond plan for road improvements.
Moreover, crews are preparing for the expansion of Loop 202.
Whenever a construction project is in the planning stages, those behind the project — whether it’s a utility company, Arizona Department of Transportation or a commercial or residential developer — must submit a traffic control plan to the city, said Bill Birdwell, senior traffic engineering technician.
Scheduling the officers has proved to be especially difficult this year because of the number of projects and the weather, Ruet said.
"Very few officers feel it’s worth the money to endure the heat," Ruet said.
If too few officers volunteer for the duty, Law Enforcement Specialists, a Glendale-based company, fills the needed positions with officers from other agencies, Ruet said.
Gilbert motorcycle officers Bill Balafas and Joe Kacic have worked off-duty traffic control.
Directing up to 12 lanes of traffic for 10, 12 hours is mentally exhausting, Balafas said.
Gilbert’s existing roads weren’t built to handle a great deal of traffic, let alone the increased traffic caused by detours, Kacic said.
While motorists have taken pity on them and brought them water, many more have merely vented at them, Balafas said.
"All of these people bought these beautiful homes out here in Gilbert, but I don’t think they banked on it taking 20 to 30 minutes to get to U.S. 60 to go to Phoenix," Kacic said.
One motorist tried to run over Kacic simply because he had to make a detour.
"People don’t understand that we’re directing traffic for a reason, that they don’t just get to go where they want to go," Kacic said. "People see us as an obstacle to where they want to go. They don’t realize we’re there for their safety."
Residents often complain about road construction, but traffic engineers do their best to lessen traffic woes, Birdwell said.
"It can be a challenge trying to coordinate everything that is going on at the same time," Birdwell. "I think people believe we do things without forethought. Their sense is that they can’t go anywhere without some sort of restrictions and that’s pretty much true."
Gilbert resident Kim Trinidad just shrugged her shoulders about all the traffic.
"It’s just growth," Trinidad said. "It just takes more time and more planning."