Driving them crazy: Commuters anxious for Ironwood Drive roadwork to end soon

Traffic on Ironwood Drive at Guadalupe Road in Apache Junction backs up when a north- or southbound lane closes due to road construction. Rather than wait for long periods of time, some drivers are opting to detour on Combs or Ocotillo roads to Queen Creek and take Ellsworth Road north to U.S. Highway 60. (Independent Newspapers/Arianna Grainey)

Traffic on Ironwood Drive at Guadalupe Road in Apache Junction backs up when a north- or southbound lane closes due to road construction. Rather than wait for long periods of time, some drivers are opting to detour on Combs or Ocotillo roads to Queen Creek and take Ellsworth Road north to U.S. Highway 60. (Independent Newspapers/Arianna Grainey)


Beth Ann Dillon braces herself and her children in their car these days when approaching intersections on Ocotillo Road.

Mrs. Dillon said drivers have been cutting her off with greater frequency on her 9-mile trip from her home in San Tan Valley to Cambridge Academy East, 20365 E. Ocotillo Road in Queen Creek, where her son attends school.

She has noticed the increase in traffic and decrease in driver courtesy since roadwork to add six pull-out lanes began Dec. 7 on Ironwood Drive between Baseline Avenue and Elliot Road in Apache Junction.

The project was initiated by the city of Apache Junction. The city is contributing $60,000 of the project’s total cost of $550,000. The balance is being paid for by the Federal Highway Administration’s Highway Safety Improvement Program for safety projects, Apache Junction Public Works Director Giao Pham said in an e-mailed response to questions.

J. Banicki Construction Inc. is the contractor. The Arizona Department of Transportation is administering the project on behalf of the city of Apache Junction, according to the project description on the ADOT website.

The work includes widening the pavement to provide the pull-out lanes in three locations as well as the addition of pavement markings, signs, guard rails, slope paving and other related work, according to the city’s construction work website.

The pull-outs are intended to provide refuge for broken-down vehicles and emergency and enforcement pull-offs outside of travel lanes, according to the project description on the ADOT website.

While drivers such as Mrs. Dillon say they recognize the need for the roadwork, they question the times of day the lane closures take place, which can be during morning and evening rush hours when many are traveling to and from U.S. Highway 60, immediately north of the roadwork.

According to a Dec. 16-17, 2014, traffic study ordered by the Pinal County Publc Works Department, 27,074 vehicles traveled both north and south on Ironwood Drive north of Ocotillo Road, based on the average traffic count for the two days. During the morning peak hours, a two-day average of 3,694 drove north between 6 a.m. and 8:59 a.m. and the remainder drove south. During the afternoon peak hours, a two-day average of 6,643 drove south between 3 p.m. and 5:59 p.m.; the remainder drove north.

Drivers such as Jason Wolpers of San Tan Valley say the lane closures can more than double his travel time to work.

“We have had to add an hour and a half to our drive times for a 35-minute trip to Gilbert and the 60,” Mr. Wolpers said in a response to questions. “We have children that need to get to school on time who should not be made to get up hours ahead of time. Wish there was something we could do as a community.”

Mr. Wolpers contacted ADOT and asked if the roadwork could take place later in the morning. He received an e-mailed response from Coralie Cole, ADOT’s senior community relations officer, who said:

“Responding to your question if it were possible to start later in the morning, unfortunately that cannot be accommodated because the material source supplying for this project closes early in the afternoon, thus necessitating an early start-time to ensure a full day of operations.”

“We are not happy with the response,” Mr. Wolpers told the Independent. “Apache Junction may have OK’d the construction but I am unsure if they spoke with any San Tan Valley representatives.”

Mrs. Dillon said she used to leave her home by 7:30 a.m. in order to get her son to school before its gates close at 8 a.m. She now leaves about 15 minutes earlier because of the traffic back-up. With her three youngsters in the car, she said she tries to hold her tongue when hurried drivers maneuver irresponsibly through traffic.

“They wait until the last minute to merge when the right lane ends and cut in front of me. They do it on Ocotillo where the right lane ends just past the railroad tracks,” she said.

“There seems to be more and more occurrences of people trying to race through school zones. Maybe they’re not paying attention or don’t care. They honk at me for driving the speed limit.

“I think, would you want me to speed through your neighborhood?” Mrs. Dillon said. “Yesterday there were three accidents. I have to brace myself and tell my kids to brace themselves as I approach an intersection. I have to be on defense every day twice a day.”

According to Capt. Randy Brice of the Queen Creek division of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, the town of Queen Creek has seen an increase in cut-through traffic but not in the number of collisions or traffic violations due to the added volume of vehicles. He attributed this to the town having adjusted its strategic law enforcement plan to accommodate the traffic.

He said during a phone interview that the town knew the Ironwood Drive project was going to take place, and identified key traffic corridors in which to place additional deputies. The corridors include Ocotillo from the east county line to Ellsworth Loop in downtown Queen Creek, and Ellsworth Loop from Hunt Highway to Germann Road, he said.

During the peak traffic hours — generally 6-9 a.m. and 3-7 p.m. — patrols are diverted to the high traffic areas, Capt. Brice said. Patrol cars are highly visible in some areas to discourage drivers from running redlights, while deputies may man unmarked cars in other targeted areas to abate speeding problems, he said.

“It’s all hands on-deck during peak times,” Capt. Brice said.

Drivers should see relief from the lane closures this spring, when the project is completed, Ms. Cole said in her e-mailed response to Mr. Wolpers.

“Please note it is anticipated the lane restrictions will be lifted sometime towards the end of February/early March because crews have been working on both north- and southbound portions of the project simultaneously to expedite the schedule,” said in a copy of her response that Mr. Wolpers supplied to the Independent.

In an e-mailed response to the Independent dated Jan. 28, Ms. Cole confirmed that the e-mail Mr. Wolpers supplied the Independent came from her. In her response, she noted “that conditions have changed since this response was provided to this constituent.”

She also updated the construction timeline: “ADOT will continue the weekday right-lane restriction along northbound and southbound on Ironwood within the project area between 7 a.m. (6:30 a.m. begin set-up) and 5 p.m. until the completion of asphalt paving. ADOT will be paving the four safety pullouts south of Guadalupe Road tomorrow, Friday Jan 29. The remaining two safety pullouts located north of the Central Arizona Project bridge are scheduled to be paved next Thursday, Feb. 4. After completion of paving, the department will review lane restrictions for approval on an as-needed basis. Restrictions along northbound prior to 9 a.m. will not be permitted.”

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