Written responses from the more than 350 Maranans who attended an open house Oct. 20 indicate enthusiastic support for building a $57 million Interstate 10 interchange north of Continental Ranch, but some concerns about increased traffic and noise were also raised.

The report completed in November summarized comments and suggestions received primarily from the open house that was held at the Sunflower development on the north end of Continental Ranch.

Planners say the joint project proposed by Marana and the Arizona Department of Transportation could go a long way in untangling south Marana's chronic traffic congestion and they hope to begin construction by 2006.

Citizens who attended the meeting were provided with maps and information sheets about the proposed interchange that will connect Twin Peaks Road on the west and Linda Vista Road on the east side of I-10. The citizens were encouraged to voice their opinions and suggestions on a questionnaire, but names of the respondents were not included in the report released by the town last week.

Farhad Moghimi, Marana's town engineer who is overseeing the project for the town, said the comments will be considered in designing the interchange and will also be used to show the U.S. Department of Transportation that area residents are in favor of the project.

Marana and ADOT have agreed to split the cost of the interchange, but are hoping to lure federal dollars to the project and smooth the way for federal permits that will be required to build the huge span that will cross the Santa Cruz River, I-10, the Union Pacific railroad tracks and the Cortaro-Marana Irrigation District canal.

"They were excellent comments. We're real pleased with the level of understanding in the community about what the interchange will entail. It's a very challenging project and it's really encouraging to get that level of interest," Moghimi said.

A common theme in the comments was that the project could not be done fast enough for the residents of the more than 6,000 homes in Continental Ranch who now rely on the overburdened interchanges at Cortaro and Ina roads as their primary access points.

"Please complete as soon as possible! I would like to see this project completed with minimum delays or even with an accelerated schedule and I have lots of neighbors who feel the same way," wrote one citizen.

"The effort needs to be expedited to the maximum," another wrote. "The volume of traffic at the Cortaro and I-10 interchange is heavy at peak hours. What is more worrisome is the traffic at Silverbell Road between Cortaro and Coachline roads. Anxious, angry, impatient and frustrated motorist treat this stretch of road as the local 'Daytona 500 Racetrack.'"

Residents were adamant that the interchange needed to either go over or under the railroad tracks to avoid the trains and resulting traffic backups that now plague drivers at the Ina and Cortaro crossings.

"Make sure the railroad tracks do not stop traffic," wrote one resident. "We're prisoners in our own subdivision"

Moghimi said the need for a grade separated crossing over the tracks came through loud and clear in the comments.

"It's the number one priority for us to make sure that it's a grade separated crossing over the railroad. To not do that would make the project less desirable as a community investment," Moghimi said. "We've already talked to the railroad to alleviate some of their concerns and everybody's on board with the idea of going over or under the tracks."

Concerns about noise and traffic impacts on the Sunflower retirement community and Twin Peaks Elementary School near Twin Peaks road also registered in the comments.

Rick Lesko, superintendent of the Marana Unified School District, said the pace of growth in south Marana probably made increased traffic near the Twin Peaks school a foregone conclusion.

"We're working with the town of Marana and I don't have any great concerns. I think the interchange will be well designed and it will probably move traffic through there more smoothly. The traffic (around Twin Peaks Elementary School) is probably inevitable and I don't think it will have any adverse effects. Having another interchange would be helpful, particularly when you look at the long-range plans in the area," Lesko said in an interview last week.

Barb Fisher, president of the Sunflower Community Association, said some residents have expressed concerns to her and she expects the homeowners association will soon be discussing the matter.

"I know our homeowners are concerned, particularly those whose homes back up to Twin Peaks, but we haven't been working with the town yet," Fisher said in a phone interview.

Moghimi stressed the project was just beginning to be designed and noise and traffic impacts will be taken into consideration.

Although most of the comments were supportive of the project, a handful of respondents were dubious. One writer compared it to the Marana town council's 1999 approval of the 1,875-home Continental Reserve subdivision that many residents of Continental Ranch objected to because they feared it would worsen traffic conditions in the area.

"The town of Marana will do what they want regardless of the input from the people at the open house (very much like the meetings regarding the development at Continental Reserve, where not one citizen was in favor of the development.) It really is very much a waste of our citizen's time to come to any meetings. The board has their own agenda and the invitations to any meetings are an insult," the person wrote.

Moghimi said all of the comments garnered from the open house will be addressed point by point in a response report that the town is preparing.

"We want to address all the comments that are being raised and where its feasible, we'll take the comments and incorporate them into the design. It's important to us that we have the community's input and support for the project," Moghimi said.

The response report is expected to be completed by the next open house for the project which is scheduled for April, but may be held sooner, Moghimi said.

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