Traffic Troubles: Does Tucson need a crosstown freeway?

Published: Apr. 30, 2015 at 9:46 AM MST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2018 at 4:18 PM MST
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Once built, the Sonoran Corridor will connect I-19 at Pima Mine Road to I-10 at Rita Road.
Once built, the Sonoran Corridor will connect I-19 at Pima Mine Road to I-10 at Rita Road.

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - As Tucson's population grows, what plans are in place for crosstown roads to cut down your commute?

We've debated potential ideas for decades, and though past proposals for crosstown freeways, parkways, or even outer loops have failed, questions remain. As the city of Tucson expands east, how will our road system change with it?

Tucson drivers like Sergio Arellano are in favor of a crosstown route.

"Cars are getting torn up," he said. "It's time for a change."

However, other Southern Arizona residents are against this possible change.

"We'll end up like Phoenix or LA," Tucson driver Kathleen Siegrist said. "That will distract from the beauty of Tucson."

Clearly the thought isn't new, so why don't we have an east to west route yet?

We saw a proposal for a crosstown parkway in 1984, as well as ideas for a loop around the city in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In these cases, it came down to a lack of money and designs were defeated at the ballot box.

According to the Arizona Department of Transportation and Regional Transportation Authority, it would cost more than $3 billion to build an actual crosstown freeway now.

"The challenge ahead really comes down to funding," ADOT spokesman Dustin Krugel said. "We're in an age where we have limited transportation funding and there are simply more needs than there are funding."

So what other options do Tucson drivers have? State Route 210, also known as Aviation Parkway, will eventually change for commuters. Currently, it spans from Golf Links Road west of South Swan Road on the east side to the eastern edge of downtown Tucson at East Broadway Boulevard.

ADOT is starting Phase 2 of a traffic study which includes expansion of the parkway. The parkway could eventually go all the way to I-10 on the west side, while the eastern extension has yet to be planned. ADOT officials say this would really make a difference for drivers.

"This would relieve a lot of traffic on I-10 that is heading to downtown Tucson," Krugel said. "Because they would have another option to get downtown by taking State Route 210, which would be a free-flowing highway."

They have money set aside now for the right of way fees, but no design or construction fees are designated, which means any kind of change here is still years away.

Plans are also in place for The Sonoran Corridor. Once built, this road will connect I-19 at Pima Mine Road to I-10 at Rita Road, easing congestion around Raytheon's facilities. It should cut about 20 minutes out of the southeast side commute, according to Pima County officials.

Drivers will cut 12 miles from their daily drive by using The Sonoran Corridor, Pima County and Southern Arizona Logistics Education Association said.

The Sonoran Corridor will also connect traffic from about 18 roads in the area with about 304,025 cars traveling on them, according to Raytheon and Pima Association of Governments.

"We're attempting to find ways to make sure we minimize congestion at the crossings, which is where the two come together," Pima County Director of Strategic Planning John Moffatt said. "As well as divert traffic and also make it easier to get to work."

Designs for this corridor are slightly further along and they should have it built in the next five to 10 years. The expected cost exceeds $600 million. The county will initially build this as a surface street, but Moffatt tells me they are ultimately looking at a four-lane highway design.

It seems we'll have to wait a while to see significant updates in the daily commute, but the bottom line, whether you like the idea or not, it appears major road advancement is in our future.

"I've looked into these cars, they're coming out with a flying car or something like that," Arellano said. "One starts to ponder, how do I bypass the Tucson traffic?"

"I think it would ruin Tucson," Siegrist said. "I think people come from all over the world to enjoy the wide open spaces."

We want to hear from you! What do you think of these proposed Tucson road changes? Participate in our Tucson News Now poll.  You can vote on our Tucson News Now website, or via text or Twitter.

If you think extending Aviation Parkway is a good idea, text "aviation" to 51313. You can also tweet @TucsonNewsNow with #aviation.

If you are for the Sonoran Corridor, text "freeway" to 51313 or tweet @TucsonNewsNow with #freeway.

Finally, if you believe no change is necessary, text the word "nothing" to 51313 or tweet @TucsonNewsNow with #nothing.

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