For now, it’s the pain as 101 widening begins

For now, it’s the pain as 101 widening begins

In the spirit of the motto “no pain, no gain,” motorists started last weekend to get a taste of the former as work began on a year-long project to widen the Loop 101 Price Freeway between the U.S. 60 and the Santan Loop 202 Freeway.

The $76-million project along the 6.4-mile stretch of freeway got underway May 31, and next weekend northbound lanes between the SanTan Freeway and Warner Road will be shut down until 5 a.m. Monday so crews can create a work zone.

Because the new travel lanes will be constructed on the outside of the existing lanes, crews will set up temporary concrete barrier. They also will leave gaps in the area to allow drivers, law enforcement and first responders to pull off the highway safely.

The shoulder will be reduced to three feet in width and vehicles wider than 11 feet will be banned from the work zone.

In many ways, the project — moved up by four years from the original plan at a total cost that’s about $20 million cheaper than originally estimated — could have been worse.

When it was originally hatched five years ago, the plan projected that work would last two years.

While ADOT promises closures between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. week nights and 10 p.m. Fridays through 5 a.m. Mondays, motorists can expect plenty of headaches.

“The design-builder team will maintain access to businesses and homes in the project area,” ADOT said in a release. “However, it might be necessary to use alternate routes at times.”

And while Price Road will remain open, it warns, “Drivers who use Price Road as an alternate route should anticipate heavier-than-usual traffic volume and allow extra travel time.”

The widening is part of a massive plan to upgrade a significant portion of the Valley’s freeway system over the next five years. The overall project includes substantial work on I-10, where the Broadway Curve will be widened to eight lanes in each direction and other related improvements are scheduled.

Indeed, that bigger project explains why the Price Road widening is occurring now instead of 2023 as originally planned.

“With a major I-10 widening project between the Loop 202 Santan Freeway and the I-17 “Split” interchange near Sky Harbor Airport in the final study phase, regional planners scheduled the Loop 101 (Price Freeway) improvements to start now,” an ADOT spokesman said. “That move recognized the role that an improved Price Freeway will play while future I-10 construction is taking place, including handling more traffic at times when it serves as an alternative route.”

The Price Freeway project will be completed in fall 2020.

The Price Freeway project also involves construction and relocation of retaining and sound walls along with other safety barriers; LED signs and improved sign structures, lighting and landscaping; modifications to on- and off-ramps; a new layer of rubberized asphalt; and the installation of closed-circuit and thermal cameras for traffic management.

In addition, the northbound Loop 101 bridge over Chandler Boulevard will be widened.

When the project is completed in fall 2020, the Price Freeway between U.S. 60 and the Santan Freeway “will include four general purpose lanes and one high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane in each direction,” ADOT said.

But the bottom line before that widening is completed, said ADOT: “Plan ahead for delays and be prepared to use alternate routes.”

The project will be undertaken along a relatively new approach that ADOT is employing in the construction of the South Mountain Freeway, the 22-mile bypass between the Chandler and W. 59th Avenue interchanges of I-10 that is designed to relieve traffic along I-10 around downtown Phoenix.

Called the “design-build method,” it essentially involves undertaking construction while engineers plan the next phase. Until recently, freeway projects began only after the entire stretch of a highway was finished on the drawing board.

Design-build “helps reduce the timeline, encourages innovation and can reduce overall project costs,” ADOT said, calling the method “most advantageous when transportation improvements are needed to reduce traffic volume or chronic congestion.”

That is basically what the Price Freeway widening is all about.

Earlier documents developed by ADOT identified the need for the project.

“Growing traffic demand has caused the Loop 101 corridor to become increasingly congested during the morning and evening peak travel periods, and traffic volume projections indicate the congestion will worsen in the future,” it found.

The widening project has its roots in a July 2014 meeting ADOT officials had with officials from Mesa, Chandler and Tempe.

That meeting also ended in an agreement to widen the Ray and Guadalupe exit ramps to two lanes, although that does not appear to be part of the current plan.

ADOT had already solicited public comment on a widening project, and many of the people who responded raised concerns about noise levels — not only during construction but after the new lanes were completed.

To mitigated construction noise, ADOT reported that all vehicles must have fully operating mufflers.

Published public comments show people were split when the widening project was proposed five years ago.

One citizen applauded the project but lamented, “Just too bad the ADOT didn’t follow my written suggestions 15 years ago to make the 101 between the 202 Santan north to the 60 into four lanes to begin with. Just think of the hundreds of millions that would have been saved. But the taxpayers must now suffer- AGAIN!!”

Another commenter was furious with the plan, stating: “I spent thousands of dollars on noise abatement windows because of the noise on the 101. The construction work on the 101 also caused me medical problems because of the dust and air pollution.”

Still another opponent of widening wrote, “I believe the environment has suffered for many years because of thinking that streets are the answer to congestion. Pouring more concrete and making more roads is not the answer. It will make the temperatures higher. And toxic.”

A resident of the Valencia HOA, which abuts Price Road in Chandler, complained, “There is already too much noise pollution that is directly caused by the 101 freeway. The noise protection barriers are already inadequate and the noise is already way too loud in the neighborhoods. Any new construction needs to include dramatically larger and more effective noise barriers as part of the whole planning process from the start.”

To these and most of the other 210 comments — pro and con — that it received, ADOT replied:

“Thank you for your comments and participation. Your comments have been provided to the study team.”

To alleviate some of the congestion on the Loop 101 Price Freeway, ADOT is adding an extra lane in each direction between US 60 and the Loop 202 Santan Freeway. (Special to AFN)

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