A call for bids on the long-awaited, much-debated expansion of La Cañada Drive from Ina Road to Calle Concordia was issued Monday by the Pima County Department of Transportation.

Bids would be opened at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 26, to build a four-lane, 3.07-mile section of roadway. The county's estimated cost is between $22.6 million and $24.5 million.

La Cañada would become a four-lane arterial roadway with a raised median from Ina north to Calle Concordia. It passes through unincorporated Pima County in a residential neighborhood initially developed some 40 years ago. Terminus of the project is immediately south of the Town of Oro Valley boundary at the crest of hills above the Cañada del Oro Wash.

The bid advertisement calls for reconstruction of major intersections at Ina, Magee and Hardy/Overton. A closed storm drain system, sidewalk and curb, public use trail, noise and retaining walls, channel excavation and armoring are among the requirements.

With dense traffic flowing to and from Oro Valley, environmental concerns and the residential character of La Cañada, "there are a lot of competing needs, that's for sure," said Rick Ellis, engineering division manager for the Pima County Department of Transportation. "It is certainly one of the more complex we've had."

"None of them are like the La Cañada roadway, which is 100 percent residential," said Dave Davis, president of the La Cañada Magee Neighborhood Association.

Noise and visual impacts of the La Cañada project have occupied leadership and residents of the LCMNA, which has watched the roadway possibility for more than a decade. The neighborhood is bordered by Ina, Northern, Hardy and La Cholla roads. It is about four square miles, with 2,658 identified properties.

For years, people within the LCMNA have worked with the county on the La Cañada road project, going to meetings, writing letters, conducting research, and inviting county officials to speak. They have pushed hard for the use of rubberized asphalt, which is now a standard in Pima County road projects. They want visual screening from the roadway for certain adjacent properties. They have challenged noise analyses, and in fact have conducted their own studies. They have questioned estimates for noise wall construction, which the county says cost $25 per square foot.

"They are grossly inflated," said Davis, who adds the association has done its own research estimating the price from $9 to $14 per square foot.

Final plans for the project include 13 noise-reduction walls, "what we thought was a reasonable compromise," Ellis said. In "the viewpoint of the residents and citizens, that was not an acceptable compromise, a step in the right direction, but did not meet their requests and expectations. It's not going far enough, in their views."

"I don't want a concrete corridor," Davis said. "I never did in the first place. With the design and the landscaping, it is a nice-looking road. There are half a dozen homes, they need to be protected from the design. When you impact houses built years ago, you do need to do something for these people.

"There are 'hot spots' that need to be addressed," Davis continued. On several properties, particularly homes close to Ina Road, "it's an unfair impact."

"We've worked very hard to try and bring every single element to the table, ranging from tech analysis, to past commitments, to implied commitments, things each party thinks would add to the discussions," Ellis said. "Everything has been brought to the table. Nothing's been held back. Nobody's played a chess game in all this."

"The county is considering the LCMNA one of their larger, more organized challenges," Davis said. Indeed, the association has many educators, engineers, attorneys and other technical experts within its ranks, along with many volunteers who've given years to neighborhood protection and enhancement. Davis himself is an engineer who has run noise tests within the project area, and finds discrepancies with county numbers.

"The burden's obviously on us to explain things, and on them to understand things and explain it back," Ellis said. "As long as both parties understood the other, we can agree to disagree."

A large sum of the money for La Cañada is coming from the Regional Transportation Authority. Its executive director, Gary Hayes, understands assurances were made by the county to nearby residents a dozen years ago.

"It's a different game, it's a different time," said Hayes, who believes that "at the end of the day, some sort of privacy considerations" will be built for La Cañada people.

"We can do the Chevy, not the Cadillac," said Hayes. "This is important. The premise of the Regional Transportation Authority is regional mobility, not neighborhood preservation. If we can do both, terrific, but when push comes to shove, regional mobility is what it's about.

"Ultimately, we'd like to do both."

Donna Heidinger made overlays of the existing properties and the roadway plans, and presented composites to the Regional Transportation Authority board in June.

"It was the only way I thought people on the RTA would understand what we were talking about," said Heidinger, who is the county liaison for the LCMNA. "We're not trying to be crabby and nasty. These people do deserve more mitigation than they're being allowed. We've been rebuffed and declined every time we've gone to someone."

"We're trying to treat everybody fairly," Ellis said. "If you open the door to doing something special for a select few folks, then I have to answer the question as the agency, 'why didn't you do it for others?' We are doing our absolute best, a 100 percent effort to be fair to everybody on that corridor, as we do with all projects in Pima County."

Roadway expansion represents "the biggest growth challenge the county has even been put up against," Davis said. "This is the biggest road challenge, and the first one to come to a head. You have to take care of the people who have been there. These people have got a valid argument. They've got reasonable expectations."

"What we always strive for is to meet needs," Ellis said. "Wants? We'd love to be able to address them, but when wants have an extra price tag attached to them, money comes into play. I cannot leave non-functioning, broken or non-performing elements out there."

Some precedence has been set on La Cañada because of the level of sophistication and detail involved with LCMNA interaction, Ellis said. Previously, such questions and detail "simply hadn't been asked, or we hadn't offered it. Now, we put extra time and effort to answer questions, and provide information.

"I've been happy with the involvement effort for it," Ellis said. "We may radically disagree, but we understand."

For a project of this "size, complexities and magnitude," signing of final documents could push into September, Ellis said. "To get construction activities going, realistically, will probably be in the October time frame."

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