After years of anticipation – or dread, depending on how you feel about the South Mountain Freeway – Pecos Road will start disappearing next week, bringing with it nearly a year’s worth of traffic disruptions for motorists who use it.
Come 5 a.m. next Monday, a 2-mile stretch of Pecos between 17th Avenue and Desert Foothills Parkway will be closed and traffic will be diverted onto a piece of the actual South Mountain Freeway, though that piece will be far narrower than the finished product will be.
“This is a huge step for the project,” said Dustin Krugel, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Transportation. “It’s a big and necessary step because we’ve hardly been able to do anything with the 17th Avenue interchange.”
Of course, there’s no gain without pain where most road projects are concerned, and this one is no exception.
Traffic in both directions will be diverted from two lanes of Pecos Road both ways onto one lane in each direction on the freeway segment. Traffic to and from 17th Avenue will be using what will become an off-ramp on the interchange while traffic at Desert Foothills Parkway will be using what will eventually be a freeway on-ramp.
While each direction of the South Mountain Freeway will have three lanes plus an HOV lane, motorists will only be seeing a fraction of that on the segment.
They’ll be diverted onto only half of the eastbound lanes – one lane in each direction – and “will see a lot of open space for now,” Krugel said.
Though that diversion is expected to last until spring, motorists’ headaches won’t end then.
“This shift of Pecos Road traffic onto the future South Mountain Freeway is the first of several that will allow Connect 202 Partners, the freeway developer, to advance construction,” ADOT said in a release.
Krugel said traffic likely will then be shifted onto two of the freeway’s westbound lanes as work continues.
Motorists will not be traveling on the completed freeway surface either, but rather on some sublayers.
“We’ve put down several layers but still have more work to do, including topping it with rubberized asphalt,” said Krugel. “But motorists won’t know the difference driving on it.”
“While it’s not a finished freeway surface,” he added, “it’ll give people a good glimpse of the future freeway.”
And as all these diversions occur, Pecos Road will be disappearing, eventually closing and giving way to a 6-mile shared path for pedestrians and cyclists between 17th Avenue and 40th Street.
Krugel said the diversions are necessary now because ADOT is behind schedule on building the Desert Foothills Parkway interchange.
In fact, it’s the only interchange where work hasn’t begun.
Work was slowed by two factors: The terrain and rock formations proved more difficult to master than anticipated, and the relocation of a city water main that closed Liberty Lane last year lasted nearly three times longer than ADOT expected.
Motorists who use the affected stretch of Pecos can expect disruptions beginning 10 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8, when it will be completely shut down between 24th Street and 17th Avenue all weekend to prepare for the new traffic pattern
The agency said that by diverting traffic now onto the freeway segment, it will be able to avoid extended weekend and night closures.
The disruptions won’t be limited to that segment of Pecos Road either as they ripple onto the adjacent roadways.
Final construction of the 17th Avenue interchange – which includes completing ramps, barrier and sound wall installation, final paving and striping and crossroad improvements – will force a reduction of 17th Avenue traffic south of Cottonwood Lane to one lane in each direction.
A temporary intersection configuration already has been created at Pecos and Desert Foothills Parkway and will remain in force until the interchange there is finished, sometime in the summer.
The speed limit through the work zone will be reduced in some areas.
The work also could add still more traffic to Chandler Boulevard, which has been impacted by motorists eager to avoid Pecos altogether as the freeway work continues.
The latest activity marks yet another milestone in ADOT’s effort to finish the freeway by the end of the year.
The 22-mile freeway will connect the Chandler and West 59th Avenue interchanges on I-10, creating a bypass around downtown Phoenix for at least 140,000 trucks and thousands of cars.
Work on the $1.77-billion freeway – the most expensive highway project in ADOT’s history – began ramping up in late 2016 after Ahwatukee opponents Protect Arizona’s Resources and Children and the Gila River Indian Community lost their bid to stop it in federal court.
A three-judge panel for the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals also refused to halt work while it considered the opponents’ appeal.
Even after the freeway opens, work will still be continuing, since ADOT still has one more interchange to build at 32nd Street.
ADOT last fall announced it was reversing a decision against building the intersection that it made five or six years ago in response to an Ahwatukee citizens advisory group’s opposition.
Citizens and some government leaders last year began pressing for a reversal of that decision, and ADOT decided their arguments made sense. It’s unclear how soon after the freeway opens that the $10-million project will begin.