Gilbert is ready to welcome its first freeway construction project.

A $1.7 million project to relocate utilities along Ray and Greenfield roads near the future path of the San Tan Freeway stretch of Loop 202 is expected to begin by early next week.

A groundbreaking ceremony with Gilbert and Arizona Department of Transportation officials will be 8 a.m. today at the northeast corner of Ray and Greenfield roads.

"We’ve been waiting almost 20 years for it," Mayor Steve Berman said of the freeway. "This will be the economic engine for Gilbert we just don’t have."

The utility relocation project is expected to be completed by the end of the year. Early next year, ADOT plans to begin construction on Ray, Greenfield and railroad bridges over the freeway, said ADOT spokesman Matt Burdick. Gilbert also will realign Greenfield Road to the west, using money approved in last month’s street bond election.

Construction on the 8-mile stretch of the freeway through Gilbert is scheduled to begin in early 2005 and be completed in late 2006, Burdick said.

The utility relocation project will move irrigation, power, communication, sewer, water and gas lines.

Ray and Greenfield roads will be closed at times during the project. Construction will extend in all four directions from the Ray and Greenfield roads intersection.

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