Queen Creek eyes drone usage to better illustrate Ellsworth congestion

While the term “drone” has been embedded within the broadcast nomenclature, the true definition of the word suggests a completely autonomous aircraft with programmable GPS waypoints. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

The Town of Queen Creek is beginning to use a drone to plan for its future.

As Queen Creek’s population has grown from about 26,000 to 45,000 in the last seven years, Queen Creek was not immune from increased traffic along Ellsworth Road turning into congestion on what was mostly a two-lane artery between San Tan Valley to the southeast and Mesa to the north.

Town officials say the intersection of Ellsworth and Germann roads saw 47,000 daily trip in 2014 and 50,000 daily trips in 2018, which helps to show the amount of motorists who regularly travel the roadway.

Fast forward to March 19, the day town officials started reviewing traffic patterns with the help of Phoenix Drone Service on a near-mile stretch of none other than the intersection of Ellsworth and Germann roads between Walnut and Ryan roads.

To help deal with that traffic, that portion of one of Ellsworth Road — one of the town’s few thoroughfares is undergoing a long-awaited lane expansion and safety to the south. The simple reason for the drone footage is to see how the town is changing, how to prepare for that growth and determine when the town can move forward with it, said Mayor Gail Barney.

“We’re trying to make future plans and long-term traffic solutions,” said Marnie Schubert, a town spokeswoman. “The traffic along there has been an issue for a long time. During morning and early evening drive times, there’s a lot of traffic coming from San Tan Valley and Mesa.”

Gail Barney

Mr. Barney added, “Ellsworth Road is a critical north-south thoroughfare. Signal Butte and Meridian roads aren’t through roads. They don’t go past Ocotillo Road, yet. But, we plan to monitor traffic in that area in the future to determine what improvements are needed as the town continues to grow. It’s more or less a five to 10-year plan, and a lot of how we address those improvements will depend on what kind of funding there is.”

The town also plans to work with the city of Mesa to help plan road improvements in the future, Mr. Barney said.

To further help deal with the current traffic situation, Queen Creek most recently began the application process for a drone usage license from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The license would help the town avoid any conflicts for operating a drone within a five-mile radius of an airport (Phoenix-Mesa Gateway) and further record and review footage to share with the public through other venues such as on the town’s website or Facebook page, Ms. Schubert said.

“The town also plans to be able to use a drone in the future so other departments such as police and fire can record footage for planning and review purposes,” said Constance Halonen-Wilson, a town spokeswoman.

Game of drones: unmanned aircraft takes on all shapes and sizes like this ProtoX nano-sized quadcopter. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

The town had received a one-time permission for drone usage from the airport authority at Mesa Gateway to review traffic at Ellsworth and Germann, but in order to be in compliance with the FAA’s drone usage requirements it released within the last year, Queen Creek enlisted the help of Phoenix Drone Service, for now.

That company has a waiver to operate a drone within the five-mile radius of the airport and the town didn’t have to wait about a year to receive its license from the FAA, Ms. Shubert said.

Queen Creek Councilman Jeff Brown, who serves on the town’s Transportation Advisory Committee, knows how important smart growth is to the town while maintaining its small-town feel even as it moves closer to buildout.

So far, drones are helping steer town officials toward future ideas and hopefully solutions to other growth issues facing Queen Creek.

And for now, it’s eyeing the traffic situation along Ellsworth Road.

“Personally, I think of the traffic congestion on Ellsworth in terms of extra and wasted time behind the wheel,” Mr. Brown said. “An extra 20 minutes or more each day, each way is terribly inefficient and frustrating. The time wasted each day could be so much better spent with family or on other more productive pursuits that ultimately lead to a higher quality of life overall.”

Editor’s note: Mr. Sakal is a freelance journalist at the Queen Creek Independent

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