FLORENCE – The equipment is in place, the plans finalized and work is ready to begin.
The first stage of the expansion of Hunt Highway is underway.
Eventually, Hunt Highway will be expanded from two lanes to five lanes from Empire Boulevard to Franklin Road – a 12-mile corridor from the Maricopa County line to the Town of Florence limits. The entire project is expected to cost in the area of $75 million.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Interim County Manager Greg Stanley. “Three different area supervisors worked on this project in various stages. But the reason why it took so long to start is money, or lack of it.”
In the fall of 2007, a Civil Design Consultant was hired to complete what was to become Phase I of the Hunt Highway expansion. They also were tasked to evaluate the entire 12-mile corridor. By the fall of 2008, the plans were nearly complete and the cost of Phase I was estimated at $15 million.
“We were set to get started on this project and then the economy took a nose dive,” Stanley recalled. “When the economy crashed, new development in the area slowed to a crawl. That had an effect of reducing our Development Impact Fees. It was a vicious circle when the recession hit. We ended up having to split the Hunt Highway project up into seven phases.”
Hunt Highway, along with several other infrastructure improvement projects, were put on an indefinite hold for the time being.
“My predecessor, Bryan Martyn began to really push for federal funding to complete this expansion project,” said current District Two Supervisor Cheryl Chase. “The goal was to get enough funding to complete the entire project. I am picking up from where he left off. We have the funding in place for Phase I, it’s now time to work on getting the other six phases fully funded.”
The big break to get Phase I off the ground came in the spring of 2011.
Early work on the first phase was being completed – intersection improvements at the corner of Empire and Ellsworth. The intersection was widened, a permanent signal was put into place and drainage issues were addressed. Then Pinal County was awarded $5 million in federal construction funding that would be administered by the Central Arizona Association of Governments and the Arizona Department of Transportation. Once the funding was in hand, the county began work on the environmental clearance process.
The county received the highly anticipated environmental clearance in July 2012. Pinal County went forward to purchase the right-of-way needed to expand the road. The final impediment of utility relocation was recently completed in October.
Drivers on Hunt Highway have probably noticed the portable message boards warning them of the construction project and anticipated finishing date. After five years of dedicated work from designing the project to funding the project, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
“Am I excited? You bet I am,” exclaimed Supervisor Chase. “Once this entire project is completed, it will be easier for public safety vehicles to get to an emergency and we won’t have the huge back-ups like we see now.”
Currently, detour construction is taking place on Phase I of the Hunt Highway expansion project. Temporary pavement is being placed on the south side of Hunt Highway to make room for traffic that will pass through the area. During construction, the speed limit in the work zones will be 25 MPH. The Pinal County Sheriff’s Office will be patrolling the area to make sure drivers are following the posted speed limits.
If drivers want to avoid the area of construction, there is a suggested detour route that will save them time and frustration.
Driving north on Hunt Highway, turn right on Gary Road. Go north on Gary Road until you reach Empire Boulevard. Make a left turn on Empire Boulevard and proceed westerly until you reach Ellsworth Road.
Driving south to Hunt Highway, proceed straight on Empire Boulevard until you reach Gary Road. Make a right hand turn on Gary Road and proceed south until you reach Hunt Highway. (If you are driving on Ellsworth Road, you will need to turn left at the intersection of Empire Boulevard and Ellsworth Road.)
Construction is expected to take 300 days with construction crews working throughout the day, there will be very little night time work. The anticipated finish date for Phase I is August 2014.
“I am asking drivers to be very careful if you drive on Hunt Highway at this time,” Supervisor Chase stressed. “We want the drivers to get to their destinations safely and the workers to go home safe every night.”