The widening of Interstate 10 between Cortaro and Tangerine roads that's expected to kick off this fall will ultimately improve travel for many people, but Maranans already burdened with traffic headaches will face the hassle of restrictions to some of their major roads during the expected 18 months of construction.

The Arizona Department of Transportation's $21 million project to add a third lane in the median in each direction between Cortaro and Tangerine was presented to the public March 11 at an open house in Marana.

A primary concern on the minds of many of the 65 attendees was how the construction will affect the east-west travel under the interstate that bisects Marana.

Dennis Alvarez, ADOT's engineer for the Tucson district, said the state is committed to trying to minimize the occasional snarls under I-10 on Cortaro, Avra Valley and Tangerine roads that will occur when the bridges over the three roads are widened.

"There will be some lane restrictions under the interstate, but that will be primarily at night and one of the requirements we have is that we maintain two lanes of traffic during the day. The restrictions of the crossing roads will be associated with widening the existing bridges and that might bring some overnight closures," Alvarez said.

The seven miles of construction between Cortaro and Tangerine is the first phase of a project expected to increase traffic capacity by 50 percent on the busy section of I-10 that passes through Marana.

The second phase, adding an additional lane in each direction in the eight miles between Tangerine and Pinal Air Park Road, is planned to begin design in 2008.

The stretch of freeway between Cortaro and the Pinal County line now handles between 60,000 and 80,000 vehicles per day, Alvarez said.

The construction comes on the heels of a similar project which wrapped up earlier this year that added a lane in each direction between Prince Road and Cortaro. Alvarez said drivers who navigated that project can expect the same type of conditions during the Cortaro to Tangerine construction.

"Drivers will face similar problems as they did when the widening between Ina and Cortaro occurred. Two lanes will be open, there will be lane shifts and concrete barriers and slower speeds and there will be an increase in commuter time when there are restrictions," Alvarez said.

Hank Warner, a traffic engineer for DMJM Harris, an engineering design company serving as a contractor for ADOT on the project, said the cross-traffic restrictions under I-10 will be primarily during the work to widen the bridges to accommodate the additional two lanes.

"Cortaro is the big one because of the amount of use the road gets. The widening of the bridge will take about 120 days. The lane restrictions underneath won't be quite that long, but it will still be a substantial amount of time. It's a busy interchange and we know there's a lot of concern out there, but unfortunately there is no other way to do it," Warner said.

Marana has a number of road projects either planned or underway in the area of Cortaro, but Town Engineer Farhad Moghimi said planners are working to ensure Marana's road work doesn't contribute to the problems generated by the I-10 construction.

"We're coordinating closely with ADOT to make sure we don't have the projects happening at the same time. The Cortaro project from I-10 east we're doing and the improvements to Silverbell Road will be coordinated to make sure we don't have this all going on at once," Moghimi said.

Of particular concern to Continental Ranch residents and others living in the area will be the likely increase in traffic backups for motorists already struggling to exit I-10 at Cortaro during the rush hours.

"Traffic is definitely picking up there and we're going to continue to monitor that. The most immediate solution will be the timing of the traffic signal at Cortaro in favor of the heaviest leg of traffic. We don't want traffic to back up on the interstate," Moghimi said.

Several people at the open house could look past the inconvenience of the construction toward the improved traffic flow the I-10 project is expected to bring when it's completed.

Alejandro Angel, a civil engineer who lives in Continental Reserve, said he already bypasses the chronic congestion on Cortaro by using Ina for his daily commute. He thinks the planned improvements to I-10, which include reconstructing some of the on and off ramps, will benefit drivers in the area.

"I think it's great. It's late, but better late than never. I definitely think it will help in the long run," Angel said.

Other people asked why the state couldn't take a "rip the Band-Aid off" approach to the I-10 project and get the pain of construction over in one shot, rather than doing the improvements in sections over a longer period of time.

Planning and funding are the primary reasons for doing it in stages, Alvarez said.

"The Tucson district gets about $50 million to $55 million per year for construction projects and that has to be spread over the entire Tucson area," Alvarez said, adding that a widening project such as Cortaro to Tangerine eats about $2.5 million to $3 million of his budget.

Twin Peaks Interchange meeting

A frequent complaint for drivers in Marana is the constriction caused by the narrow underpasses where Ina and Cortaro roads cross Interstate 10, but it's also a headache for state and town road planners who say rebuilding the bridges would be a huge engineering and financial undertaking.

Dennis Alvarez, Tucson district engineer for the Arizona Department of Transportation, said plans for building an interchange at Twin Peaks Road and Linda Vista Boulevard that would pass over or under I-10, has led the state to place its priority on some day widening the Ina underpass before widening Cortaro's.

"Ina suffers the same problem as Cortaro, but with Twin Peaks going in, that would take care of a lot of that traffic from Cortaro. We could look at redoing Cortaro somewhere further in the future," Alvarez said.

No timetable or budget has been set for widening either of the roadways under the bridges at Ina and Cortaro. A recent "mini study" conducted by ADOT and Marana that looked at building overpasses for the busy Marana roads to carry east-west traffic over I-10 and the Union Pacific Railroad tracks put a price tag on each bridge at between $40 million to $50 million, Alvarez said.

In the mean time, planners and white-knuckled commuters are pinning their hopes on the Twin Peaks interchange, which will span I-10 and the train tracks and relieve some of the traffic burden in the Continental Ranch and Dove Mountain areas.

The $57 million Twin Peaks project, expected to begin construction in 2006, has popular support in Marana. An open house for the project held Oct. 20 brought in more than 350 mostly enthusiastic citizens.

ADOT and Marana will hold another open house to offer citizens an opportunity to comment on designs that provide for three slightly different locations for the interchange and plans for routing it either over or under the freeway and train tracks.

The public meeting is scheduled for March 22 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Twin Peaks Elementary School, 7995 W. Twin Peaks Road. A presentation of the options for the project is scheduled at 7 p.m. For more information, call Carol Oaks or Nanette Pageau at 885-9009.

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