'Jug handle' preferred at La Cholla, Magee
Randy Metcalf/The Explorer, A vehicle turns north from Magee Road onto La Cholla Boulevard last week. The town is looking to eliminate the 'jog' in the street where Magee Road meets La Cholla Boulevard.

Engineers are proposing the “jug handle” over the “S curve” to reconfigure the intersection of Magee and La Cholla roads north of Foothills Mall.

Bill Schlesinger, with the engineering firm DMJM Harris, unveiled the recommendation at a Pima County Department of Transportation Cortaro Farms / Magee road project open house last week at Mesa Verde Elementary School.

“The intersection is the main focus of this investigation,” said Schlesinger, who showed an audience of more than 50 people how engineers examined options on Magee and La Cholla.

Right now, the east / west Magee intersections on La Cholla are offset, creating a relative bottleneck in the flow of traffic. “If you live here, you know how busy that intersection is,” Schlesinger said.

A year ago, engineers began analysis of up to 15 alternatives for the intersection. The list was narrowed to four, then two after an open house with the public in August. More detailed analysis then occurred on the S curve and jug handle alternatives. (Click here for an image of the plans.)

The two alternatives were “pretty close” in terms of comparative impacts, Schlesinger said.

The jug handle is less expensive by $1.3 million. If it is incorporated into the design, the overall 5-mile expansion of Magee / Cortaro Farms between Thornydale and Oracle roads would cost $33.2 million, as compared to $34.5 million with the S curve. Voter-approved Regional Transportation Authority funds and money from the Federal Highway Administration would pay for the project, which will expand Magee from two lanes to four, and add sidewalks, bicycle lanes, sound management, art, landscaping and other improvements.

The jug handle and S curve alternatives at La Cholla are equal in terms of operation, safety, drainage, air quality, water quality, visual character and utilities. The S curve offers less impact on vegetation and wildlife communities by affecting 34 acres, versus 37 with the jug handle. The jug handle’s larger footprint makes it more difficult to mitigate, but it is quieter, and has less impact on adjoining land uses and access, according to an engineering study.

The jug handle is “recommended,” but is not the “selected alternative,” Schlesinger said. More input is being solicited. A final plan document should go to the Pima County Supervisors later in 2009.

Realignment of the Magee intersection at La Cholla would be the first phase of the overall project, scheduled to begin in 2011. Construction of the section of Magee west from La Cholla to Thornydale would commence in 2014. Construction of the eastern section, from La Cholla to Oracle, is slated for 2016.

“I hope you understand the scope of the work ahead these next eight years,” Supervisor Ann Day told the audience. Magee / Cortaro “is one of the largest of all the RTA projects,” Day said, “and by far the most complex in the district,” hence its division into sections.

Projections suggest the new four-lane road would carry 24,000 to 30,000 vehicles per day by 2030, according to county traffic data. Magee now has between 17,000 and 20,000 vehicles a day, county statistics indicate.

“I can’t impress upon you enough the importance of your presence here, and your voice in the undertaking of this immense, complex project,” Day said. “Stay involved, and stay in dialogue.”

“The most effective way to give your comments is to write them down,” Schlesinger told the audience.

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