Traffic and water use were among the concerns of more than 100 residents who packed into an elementary school gymnasium in Black Canyon City Tuesday evening to hear Arizona Department of Transportation officials talk about a major Interstate 17 improvement project.
The project, along a 23-mile stretch of the route north of Phoenix, will widen roads and add additional lanes to improve capacity and reduce congestion from Anthem Way north to the Sunset Point Rest Area. Project construction is expected to last three years — from 2022 to 2025.
The improvements are expected to widen 15 miles of road, replacing two bridges and widening 10 others while constructing 8 miles of a new “flex” lane system.
The flex lanes will be open to northbound or southbound traffic — depending on the peak traffic direction and the greatest need. Barriers for the flex lanes can be controlled remotely and will be separated from the southbound road by a concrete barrier.
The new lanes will be constructed from Coldwater Road in Black Canyon City to the Sunset Point Rest Area.
The total cost is $445.94 million and comes from multiple funding sources that include federal aid with matching state funds; state highway funds approved by the Arizona Legislature in 2019, a Rebuilding America Infrastructure Grant and funds from the Maricopa Association of Governments.
The developer is a joint partnership with Kiewit and Fann Contracting.
On Tuesday evening, a number of ADOT subject matter experts were on hand at Canon Elementary School to answer a range of questions from traffic and noise concerns to how officials planned to use water sources for the project.
The meeting lasted about 40 minutes.
“This 23-mile section of I-17 between Anthem Way and Sunset Point is one of the most heavily utilized roadways in Arizona, seeing more than 1 million travelers each year,” said Jed Young, ADOT deputy project manager, to the crowd. “We look forward to improving this section of I-17.”
The project will be divided into two segments. The first includes widening from Anthem Way to Black Canyon City and from Black Canyon City to Sunset Point, which will include the flex lanes constructed next to the existing southbound lanes.
The flex lanes will be equipped with an electronic gate system and net barriers that slow and stop vehicles from entering the road in the wrong direction.
Overhead signs to alert drivers which direction to use will also be installed. The entire system will be monitored and controlled by the ADOT Traffic Operations Center, according to ADOT documents.
No closures or restrictions are scheduled on weekends, according to ADOT officials. No timetable is set for when construction work will officially begin this year. Pre-construction work is underway.
But not everyone at the meeting was convinced the project will go off without a hitch.
Bob Anderson attended the meeting and was told officials would not take water from wells as far north as Cordes Lakes.
A few moments later, Anderson said he didn’t think the improvement project would completely alleviate traffic congestion.
“It will be a bottleneck and it may bottleneck all the way down the hill,” said Anderson, a Deer Valley resident who also has a home in Cordes Lakes. “I go up and down that road every weekend. I see it. I think it’s great what you are doing, but the bottleneck is not going to go away.”
In an interview, Anderson said he would like I-17 to become safer. He travels to Phoenix in winter and spends the summer in Cordes Lakes, he said. He tries to avoid I-17 congestion by coming down to Phoenix during less busy times, he said.
“We use the I-17 a lot,” Anderson said. “We know it’s not very safe.”
Shirley Basham of Black Canyon City said she relies on the I-17 to get to into Phoenix for doctor’s appointments for sleep apnea. She said she heard about the meeting from a friend at Bible study.
“I want to know what they are doing,” Basham said. “If I go to Phoenix, how long is it going to be if I go to the doctor?”
A few crowd members complained to officials they wanted to ask their questions out loud so the entire crowd could hear. ADOT officials initially directed residents to the back of the gymnasium to talk to the subject matter experts for answers to their questions.
Shortly after, Kimberly Noetzel, ADOT communications director for major projects, directed a small group to the front of the crowd to take questions from the crowd.
Laura Douglas, ADOT communications project manager, said lanes will be restricted on weeknights only from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.
“Once the 8 miles of flex lanes are open and operational between Black Canyon City and Sunset Point, they will always serve as two additional travel lanes,” Douglas said. “That means when they are open in the northbound direction, drivers will have a total of four travel lanes between Black Canyon City and Sunset Point (two existing general purpose lanes and two flex lanes). The same is true when the flex lanes are open in the southbound direction. Drivers will have a total of four travel lanes between Sunset Point and Black Canyon City as they head south (two existing general purpose lanes and two flex lanes).”
For information, visit improvingi17.com.
This story was corrected and Karen Fann is not an owner of Fann Contracting.
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