Pinal County’s Hunt Highway corridor, known for tremendous growth and exasperating commuter gridlock, has seen more than a 660 percent increase in traffic incidents since 2003.
Hunt Highway — once a rural back road from Phoenix to Florence that wasn’t entirely paved until the late 1990s — has morphed into a congested arterial road because of growth in the area. And that’s resulted in a spike in traffic, collisions, and the heightened attention of the sheriff’s office.
Crashes on Hunt Highway, from the “J-curve” at Ellsworth Road just south of Queen Creek to Copper Basin, jumped from 27 in 2003 to 206 in 2006, according to data from the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office. Fatal crashes went from one to three in the same years.
The lack of roads leading to Phoenix, along with booming growth, constant road construction, speed and driver inattention all factor into the increase, sheriff’s Chief Deputy Jerald Monahan said.
“Everybody’s on one road,” he said. “It funnels an enormous amount of traffic onto two-lane roadways.”
Because of this, the sheriff’s office plans to use money from the Governor’s Office to pay deputies overtime to do traffic enforcement on Hunt Highway and Ironwood Drive, Monahan said. They are also within 60 days of having photo radar in the area to get people to pay attention to traffic laws, he said.
Cheryl Davison, who has lived off Hunt Highway for about 10 years, said she thinks police enforcing traffic rules could help.
“You get the idiots out there that decide they’ll help the situation along — they’ll ride on the side of the road and rattle everybody’s cage or they’ll pass at a place where someone else might try to enter the road.”
She said the increase in crashes isn’t surprising.
“It is bad, it is horrible, and the streets aren’t designed for this amount of traffic,” she said. “Five out of the seven days a week we can hear the sirens going off during evening rush hour.”
When the population increased, the roads got worse, she said.
“We moved out here to get away from all of it, and it all came out to us,” Davison said. “Developers should help alleviate what they are helping to create.”
Monahan said paying attention on the road, especially around construction zones, can prevent collisions.
“The single biggest increase is in non-injury accidents that can be prevented by paying attention to the task at hand,” he said. “Give that driving your full attention.”
Motorists can prevent accidents by leaving earlier and planning for construction and volume delays, Monahan said, adding that a lot of the crashes are happening during morning and evening rush hour.
“No one that lives in that area should be surprised to hit construction zones,” he said.
A recent fatal collision was attributed to speed, and speed mixed with the number of vehicles on the road and the construction zones “makes having an accident a very real possibility,” Monahan said.
“You have to be very, very careful,” he said. “There’s no room for error with the volume of traffic that exists on Hunt Highway.”
Rural/Metro Fire Department responds to traffic collision calls along Hunt Highway, and spokeswoman Alison Cooper said they are noticing the marked increase in crashes. In addition to crashes caused by inattention and speed, she said some road rage crashes happen because of the congested commutes.
The ever-changing complexion of Hunt Highway is also adding to unsafe conditions, Monahan and Cooper said.
“The way the road is constructed, it’s a potential factor,” Cooper said. “There are a lot of curves, and people will take those too fast. The lanes also go from one to two and then from two to one.”
Monahan said the road changes with every construction project, and drivers need to watch signs and barricades because they change often.
Pinal County public works director Greg Stanley said the county is in the process of hiring an engineering firm to design improvements for Hunt Highway. He said it would be a multiphased project that would be built as money is available.