Widening and improvement of I-10 continues westward, with work on a 1.7-mile stretch between a point just south of Prince Road and Ruthrauff Road expected to begin later this year.

Bids on the project, estimated at $115 million, should be solicited this summer or fall, people were told at a Thursday open house on the project at the Tucson Chinese Cultural Center.

Major construction is expected next January. Once it begins, construction is expected to take 24 months.

A major piece of this improvement takes Prince Road, which now passes below I-10, to a grade above the interstate and separate from the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. It is expected to "address traffic congestion at the railroad crossing … by allowing traffic, including emergency service vehicles, to pass over the railroad," the Arizona Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration said in a fact sheet. Other benefits of a Prince overpass are improved safety, commuting and transportation efficiencies, and the elimination of train whistle noise.

I-10 would be widened from three to four 12-foot travel lanes, with an auxiliary lane in each direction between Prince and Ruthrauff for merging vehicles, "similar to what’s built in the downtown area," ADOT project manager Steve Wilson said.

The project would be done in two phases. Traffic flow patterns for each phase have been identified. Throughout construction, the agency plans to keep open three lanes of travel in each direction, "basically what is out there today," said Bill Schlesinger, with the consulting firm AeCom.

Prince Road will be closed at I-10 during the entire project, with business access provided. Linda Ritter, public information officer for ADOT, said the agency held two workshops with the business community April 26 and 27 to talk about the project. "We want to give them proactive communication about the project," she said.

"We realize when we close Prince, traffic is going to have to find alternative routes," Wilson said. Increased I-10 access traffic is anticipated at Ruthrauff and Miracle Mile. "We will be working with local law enforcement as the project progresses" to "help mitigate increased traffic," including that around local schools, he said. Sun Tran bus stops would be affected, and ADOT plans to cooperate with the mass transit provider to "get the buses where they need to go."

Todd Emery, Tucson district engineer for ADOT, is "convinced" that when the project is done, it will be a success in terms of operational, safety and capacity improvements. It is ADOT’s highest-priority project within the Tucson region. Wilson said the finished road would be built to handle traffic volumes anticipated through 2040.

Wilson said UP is working toward a second line of tracks through southeast Arizona. It has plans to go from 40 to 90 trains a day in the future.

"That’s all the more reason we need to grade-separate" Prince Road from the tracks. The agency continues to study I-10 from Ruthrauff to Ina, with grade separation between Ina and the railroad tracks preferred to "avoid the potential conflicts at the railroad."

The timing of Union Pacific’s plan to expand rail traffic "really depends on the economy," Wilson said. "It is a goal for them in the near future to double track and have increased capacity on that line."

Federal Highway Administration funds cover 94 percent of the estimated $115 million project. Union Pacific "receives a benefit" from the project, and would pay $500,000 toward it. The rest of the funds would come from state sources.

At Thursday’s meeting, representatives were asked if there would be allowances within the project space for any high-speed rail between Tucson and Phoenix. Wilson said a study of high-speed rail is coming. "They’re just getting ready to hire a consultant," he said. ADOT does have a 500-foot right-of-way.

To comment

Comments on the improvement of I-10 from Ruthrauff to Prince may be made through May 12 by mail to Paki Rico, community relations, in care of Gordley Design Group, 2540 N. Tucson Blvd., Tucson, 85716; by fax to 520-327-4687; by e-mail to Rico at paki@gordleydesign.com.

The website is www.i10tucsondistrict.com/rtop

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