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Local governments: prioritizing road repairs a tough task


PHOENIX — More than likely, there’s an aging road or two in need of repair somewhere in your Valley community.
How do cities and counties decide which roads get fixed first? We looked into that.

Maricopa Area Governments

Last year, the Maricopa Area Governments Regional Council unanimously adopted an investment plan for improvements for the next 25 years. Audra Koester Thomas, transportation planning program manager for MAG, said funding for these projects is dependent on a continuation of the dedicated half-cent sales tax first approved by voters in 1985.

“Legislation that would have referred an election to Maricopa County voters was vetoed by Gov. Doug Ducey this summer,” Thomas said, referring to House Bill 2685. Several mayors and other city leaders voiced anger about the unexpected veto from Ducey, who is term-limited and leaves office in January.

Thomas said the MAG Regional Council sets those priorities through its two major roadway programs: the Freeway Life Cycle Program and Arterial Life Cycle Program. She said MAG maintains a list of recently adopted annual programs detailing funded projects during the next few years.

MAG projects tend to involve new roads, such as widening or renovated interchange ramps or bridges, as opposed to pavement maintenance and pothole repair.

Maricopa County Department of Transportation

The pavement management program of Maricopa County’s Department of Transportation is responsible for maintenance and repair of public roads in places such as Sun City and other unincorporated parts of the county. MCDOT’s transportation system includes 2,524 miles of roads, 436 bridges and structures, 172 traffic signals and almost 60,000 traffic signs.

MCDOT’s project funding comes primarily from Highway User Revenue Funds as well as other federal and state sources.

Erika Flores, communications manager with MCDOT, said the county doesn’t categorize roads by danger level.

“Some roads are part of our Transportation Improvement Program,” she said. “The MCDOT TIP contains planned roadway system improvements for the county. These improvements include new or improved roadways, bridges, drainage structures, intersection improvements, intelligent transportation systems and more. The TIP allows MCDOT to plan for five years of future projects through the development process (planning, scoping, design and construction).”

Here are three of MCDOT’s top budget priority road improvement projects. One of the options is no-build, which would mean no new pavement installed with county funds. The no-build options list several ongoing negative circumstances.

Flores said MCDOT uses a project rating system to Prioritize roadway improvements.

"The Project Rating System is based on the categories of Capacity, Active Transportation (pedestrian and bicycle), Particulate Matter (PM) – 10 and Low Volume roads, and Traffic Signals," she said. "Each category utilizes data to determine need and priority.  Data used includes, but is not limited to, safety, traffic volumes, cost/benefit, and land use. Maintenance projects do not always fall under this rating system."

Flores said MCDOT, like many other transportation agencies, utilizes both Pavement Condition Ratings (a measurement of surface distress) and International Roughness Index (difference of pavement surface and flat surface).  

Peoria Avenue Improvement Project: Citrus Road to SR 303

The Maricopa County Department of Transportation is conducting a study to determine what road improvements are needed to address stormwater drainage, driveway access, connection to SR303, and future travel along the Peoria Avenue corridor.

MCDOT is considering three alternatives with varying features. Proposed improvements include: two lanes each direction, traffic signals, roundabouts, turn lanes, access management, raised medians, flush medians, curbing, sidewalks, and storm water drainage channels. See each alternative at tinyurl.com/mpukanmf

What to expect after construction: reduced road flooding, reduced traffic backed up at intersections, slower driving speeds at Cactus’ Citrus Road and 175th Avenue roundabouts, more ease entering and exiting properties, ease in making U-turns at roundabouts.
Features, depending on the alternative chosen, could include roundabouts, raised medians, traffic signals and median breaks.

Mckellips Road: State Route 101 To Alma School Road

Still in the design phase, this project will widen McKellips Road from the State Route Loop 101 to Alma School Road in order to improve safety for motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists. MCDOT is working with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (SRPMIC) to design this project.

On-site work on the project is scheduled to begin this year.

The budget for the project, which has chunks budgeted into all fiscal years through 2027, is $3,552,000.

227th Avenue (Montgomery to Dove Valley) road improvements

The purpose of the project, which is still in its scoping phase, is to examine the road and explore solutions to reduce the amount of particulate matter generated in this area. The project goal is to help reduce the amount of dust created in the area by paving 227th Avenue.
This project is in the “scoping” phase. The total budget is $858,000.

Here are some other MCDOT projects:

    • A Gilbert Road bridge is a priority because of the regional impact that occurs when the existing low flow crossing is closed due to significant rain events.  The new four-lane bridge will address those road closures. MCDOT has  partnered with both the City of Mesa and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community on this project.
    • Vulture Mountain RecArea Roads has a regional impact because of the limited routes of travel in this area, and the bridge will help address the access control to Vulture Mountains Recreation Area.  This project is in partnership with Maricopa County Parks and Recreation.
    • Olive Ave (Loop 303 to Reems) is an east-west roadway that will be widened from two-lanes to four-lane to address the growth in this area. This is part of a several project program to improve Olive Avenue between Citrus Rd and Litchfield.

City of Phoenix

The city of Phoenix clearly defines how it determines which roads need work the most.

“Staff uses a pavement management system methodology to evaluate asphalt condition,” the city states on its Pavement Preservation Program landing page of phoenix.gov. “The foundation of PMS is field data obtained using a high-tech pavement management vehicle, which measures and records the condition of roads annually; evaluating them on surface roughness, environmental stresses, and structural condition.”

Based on the resulting pavement condition index rating, which is measured 0-100 (worst to excellent), staff uses the measurements to develop an list of roads to receive a resurfacing treatment.

Once a street is suggested, field evaluations are conducted to confirm or modify the results, the city says.

“The goal is to apply the right surface treatment at the right time based on the results of the overall pavement evaluation,” the city says.

Phoenix road treatments include crack sealing, microsurfacing, slurry sealing, fractured-aggregate surface treatments, polymer-modified master sealing, asphalt patching and pothole repairing.

The full list of the city’s planned fiscal 2023 pavement treatment projects can be found here: tinyurl.com/ky35emj2

Here, for example, is the city’s arterial microsurfacing schedule:
• North Seventh Street, from south of Union Hills Drive to Loop 101 Pima Freeway, 0.93 miles
• Bell Road, from west of 40th Street to west of Tatum Boulevard, 1 mile
• Bell Road, from east of 32nd Street to west of 40th Street, 1 mile
• Buckeye Road, from west of 43rd Avenue to east of 35th Avenue, 1 mile
• McDowell Road, from east of 51st Avenue to east of 43rd Avenue, 1 mile
• Northern Avenue from east of 16th Street to State Route 51, 2 miles
• Rancho Paloma Drive from east of Cave Creek Road to east of Dusty Wren Drive, 1.41 miles
• Thomas Road from west of 48th Street to east of 56th Street. 1 mile
• Washington Street from east of State Route 202 to west of 56th Street, 0.48 miles