By James J. Hodl
Get ready! The widening of U.S. 60 from two to four lanes – including a stretch through the Superior business district – is set to begin this summer. But not everyone is satisfied with the plans set by the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and appeals to alter those plans to make them more friendly to local businesses continues.
The widening project aims to upgrade U.S. 60 from the Town of Superior, from milepost 222.6 to east of the City of Globe, at milepost 258 in Pinal County and Gila Counties. Working with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), ADOT said it conducted location concept studies and environmental impact statements to evaluate the improvements to enhance safety, traffic operations and regional connectivity and to meet future traffic demands. As part of the project, Main Street will be realigned to match the location of the planned Circle K driveway for when the gas station relocates to the site of the Superior RV Park.
There is much local support for the U.S. 60 project as it is currently proposed.
“Earlier plans called for a new stretch of U.S. 60 to be built that would have bypassed Superior,” said Mila Besich Lira, member of the Superior Town Council who acts as liaison between the council and ADOT. “Keeping the traffic flow through Superior will benefit local businesses, especially restaurants, now that tourism has become the life blood of this community since the mine shut down.”
But the Superior Chamber of Commerce, while supportive of the widening project, is critical of how the highway will be reconfigured through the town, specifically the use of a raised median in the middle of U.S. 60 to separate the opposite flows of traffic including inside Superior.
“We are concerned that under current ADOT plans, these solid medians will close off Belmont Street to cross traffic at U.S. 60,” said Pamela Dalton-Rabago, speaking for the chamber. “You won’t even be able to make a left turn from U.S. 60 onto Belmont as the only streets with left turns will be Western and Church.”
“We support a two-way turn lane as there is now, which the chamber feels will be safer for people to navigate and allow both locals and visitors easy access to our businesses. We also have asked for a safe pedestrian crossing at Western,” Dalton-Rabago added.
Eva Encinas, who operates Edwardo’s Pizzeria on Belmont, agreed that closing off Belmont at U.S. 60 makes little sense. “If you have to make a left turn off U.S. 60 to get to us, you’ll have to drive by and make a U-turn at the next turn street,” Encinas said. She added that the widened highway will likely bring her popular pizzeria more customers by making it faster and easier to get into Superior.
To convince ADOT to allow left turn at Belmont, the chamber has sent the agency a document from Pinal County regarding regionally significant routes. “The chamber feels its request fits what is described in that document,” she said. Earlier this month, the chamber made an additional proposal to ADOT that to improve the agency’s safety concerns that the additional turn lane be coupled with a reduction of the speed limit along U.S. 60 through Superior from 45 mph to 35 mph. ADOT has not yet responded to this proposal.
ADOT’s decision to include a median in the Superior street sections is summed up in one word: Safety, ADOT spokesman Dustin Krugel told the Superior Sun. “The medians are there to separate the opposing traffic and, with numerous driveways in the area, sight visibility is limited. ADOT will incorporate access points in the area, where drivers will be allowed to make left-hand turns,” Krugel explained.
He further cited research by FHWA, which noted: “Medians can have a profound effect on driver safety compared to two-way left-turn lanes. One reason a two-way left turn lane is less safe than a median is that a driver who is turning left must be able to ensure that the traffic is clear from two directions in multiple lanes. When this is not quite possible, drivers will sometimes use a two-way left-turn lane in the middle of the road while attempting to merge into traffic. Such maneuvers can lead to serious crashes and become more frequent as traffic volumes increase.”
“The U.S. 60 Silver King/Superior Streets project has actually been in the ADOT pipeline for several years,” Krugel noted. It was recommended in a report soon after ADOT in 2004 completed the final design concept report on U.S. 60 from Florence Junction to Superior. While the widening of the Silver King/Superior Streets sections of U.S. 60 was originally budgeted for Fiscal Year 2016, the Arizona Transportation Board last June accelerated the project to Fiscal Year 2015 after the project design was nearly completed. Construction will now begin next July and last about 18 months.
The Silver King/Superior Streets project fulfills a longstanding commitment ADOT made to the region to upgrade U.S. 60 between Florence Junction and Superior as they are the last two remaining sections of the highway between the Phoenix metropolitan area and Superior that have not yet been converted into a modern, four-lane divided highway. This segment of the highway from Florence Junction to Superior also accommodates commuter traffic between Globe/Superior and employment destinations that include prisons in Florence and various businesses in the East Valley portion of the metropolitan Phoenix area.
The widening improvements will improve traffic flow and enhance safety on U.S. 60, which is also a major regional transportation route connecting the Phoenix metropolitan areas to recreational areas to the east and north that are located within the White Mountain Apache Reservation and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. U.S. 60 serves Globe, Show Low and Springerville and connects to Interstate 25 in New Mexico.
Traffic volumes along the route are increasing as the population of the state experiences continued growth. As the Phoenix area continues to expand, traffic through the Florence Junction and Superior areas will increase significantly. ADOT has completed and has several projects forthcoming along the U.S. 60 corridor, including pavement preservation, climbing/passing lanes and rock fall mitigation projects in the near future.
The widening of U.S. 60 will have an additional effect on Superior businesses along this thoroughfare. “ADOT owns a 100-foot right-away from the center line of the highway,” Besich Lira noted. “Some will lose the adjacent parking they maintained on the until now unused section of the right-away in front of their storefronts.”
Structures built many years ago right up to the edge of the right-away may face additional problems. “While I can’t speak for everyone on the town council, these changes to our highway may be uncomfortable for our community, in the long run the highway expansion will bring greater opportunities to our region,” Besich Lira said. “I agree that slowing the traffic down 5-10 miles will help those traveling through Superior make the turns that they need,” she added in comment to the chamber’s proposal to achieve the additional left turn locations.
An additional complaint by businesses along U.S. 60 as it passes through Superior is that they would suffer a drop-off of customer visits as people avoid the construction area. But ADOT does not have authority to compensate businesses during construction according to state law.
“We do make every effort to provide consistent safe access for the traveling public. ADOT will do extensive public outreach to provide businesses up-to-date information on construction and phasing of the project so we can coordinate business access,” Krugel said.
Likely to benefit greatly from the widening of U.S. 60 is the Circle K gas station/retail business set to be built at 1113 W. U.S. Highway 60. In return for the Superior Town Council voting last December rezone from R3 multi-family residential to C-2 General Commercial, MV Partners, which will operate the Circle K outlet, will do everything possible to make the outlet as neighborhood friendly as possible.
“We plan to orient the store and facility towards U.S. 60 for good visibility. Vendor deliveries will be pushed to the east side of the property to mitigate some of the noise,” promised Mike Spavaro of MV Partners.
“We have offered to put in a six-foot block wall and landscaping to help mitigate issues the neighbors expressed concerns over. Side lights will be put up but will not be lighting up beyond the property. The new store is significantly larger than the current store and will have commercial grocery needs and services as well as 10 gas pumps,” he added.
Superior businesses also may benefit from a proposed campaign for after the highway project is completed. As described by Besich Lira, advertising signs near destination sites like the Boyce Thompson Arboretum would invite visitors to top their trip with lunch or dinner in Superior, and perhaps some shopping.