Commute Times Getting Longer for Area Residents
Residents who work outside Laveen used to travel the 12 miles or so to Central Phoenix in about half hour; the same for workers heading to the East Valley. Now residents complain those commutes can take up to twice as long. Even motorists traveling on the west side of town find longer drive times heading north to Glendale, west Phoenix and Peoria as construction begins on the South Mountain Freeway along 59th Avenue.
“My family commutes to downtown Phoenix for work and school every week day. The added construction has added 30 minutes to our morning commute,” said Laveen resident Alison Richardson. “There is literally no viable way for us to get downtown right now. Exiting our community at 67th Avenue and Baseline we find traffic backed up from 67th all the way to Betty Fairfax High School, then all the way down Baseline Road.
“It takes 15 minutes to get past Fairfax — which should be a two-minute drive for us — because the light at the school is timed to let people enter and leave the school. Southern is a mess because of the construction at 27th Avenue. Broadway is under heavy construction.”
Nationally, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the average American commutes about 25 minutes to work. Many Laveen residents report driving double that or more.
“I think choosing to do construction on almost all roads heading east at the same time has been the issue,” observes Shana Velazquez.
Kara Keenan said she also has seen her commute increase. “I’ve found I need to leave my office by 3:40. It takes me 25 minutes to drive from Kyrene to 51st Avenue at that time. If I leave even 5 minutes later it takes over an hour, with the biggest traffic jams at 48th Street, Central, 19th Avenue and 35th Avenue.”
Another commuter to the East Valley, Jim Hardway, agrees.
“It’s the traffic lights going east or west that go so fast when there are only few cars going north and south,” he said. “All the traffic can’t get through the lights.
“I drive to Country Club Drive and Southern from 51st Avenue and Baseline: 30 minutes in the morning, 1 hour, 15 minutes to get home. The traffic going west is horrible. Please help.”
He said he thinks having longer east and west light times would help improve traffic flow.
“We can’t really explain specifically why there is such congestion,” said Monica Hernandez, a public information officer for the city of Phoenix Street Transportation Department. “We do not have any active construction work in the area you described. The Water Department has a sewer line under construction on Southern Avenue, east of 27th Avenue that may possibly be triggering some of the traffic issues….”
Hernandez noted that the street department recently finished several projects in the Laveen and South Phoenix area, including various improvements along 35th Avenue from Baseline Road to Southern Avenue that may have contributed to recent increased commute times. The project included reconstruction of 35th Avenue into a major arterial street with raised medians, new asphalt pavement, new curbs and gutters, sidewalks, storm drain mainline pipe, catch basins, a new bus bay, street lights, traffic signals landscaping and irrigation.
Another ongoing project is the city’s $84 million Avenida Rio Salado / Broadway Road project. The north half of a new roadway section opened in October between 51st Avenue and 43rd Avenue. Improvements to the south side of Broadway Road between 51st to 43rd avenues will be completed as part of final phase for the project, which eventually will take Broadway from 51st Avenue all the way to Seventh Street.
But this month the project means more road closures from Jan. 9-16 while new curbs, gutters, sidewalks and asphalt paving are poured near 27th Avenue and Broadway Road. As a result, 27th Avenue will be closed south of Broadway Road and no through traffic on 27th Avenue will be permitted. Traffic will be directed to use 35th and 19th avenues.
Laveen resident Donna Gillaspie is optimistic than as more such projects are completed, the overall travel time will improve for commuters in her community. “Don’t forget all the construction going on right now. It’s an inconvenience, but hopefully your time will shorten when all is said and done.”
In Laveen, which is about 40 percent county land and the rest part of Phoenix, there can be multiple government agencies involved in collaborative or separate projects, including the Gila River Indian Community, Maricopa County, the Arizona Department of Transportation, and the myriad City of Phoenix departments.
While the city has wrapped up work on 35th Avenue and on a $4.5 million flood retention basin at the northeast corner of 27th and South Mountain avenue, there are multiple county road projects in various phases:
- Roadway Paving, which is in the design phase with construction set for winter 2018. This project will pave several roads in the Laveen area as part of the County’s Low Volume Roads Project to reduce dust and provide travelers with a healthier route to travel. Roads included in this project are: 31st Drive from Olney Avenue to McNeil Street; Olney Avenue from the 33rd Avenue alignment to 31st Drive and 45th Avenue from Estrella Drive to the Gumina Avenue alignment.
- 35th Avenue from Carver Road to Elliot Road, also in the design phase. This project is designing roadway improvements to realign 35th Avenue to improve sight distance and ensure the roadway remains within County right-of-way.The web site didn’t yet list a construction schedule.
- 51st Avenue bus pullouts. This project would construct new designated concrete bus bay pullouts on 51st Avenue at the intersections of Judum Street and Tashquinth Drive. The pullouts will include the construction of curb, gutter, sidewalk and pedestrian pads at these popular bus loading/unloading stops. Construction is set for this summer.
Richardson also believes traffic is likely to worsen before it gets better, especially as construction is now under way along the route of the 22-mile South Mountain Freeway, which is expected to be completed by 2019.
“My assumption is that it will only get worse once the (Loop) 202 starts to be built along Southern and Baseline. (Transportation officials) need to be proactive,” she said.
But until relief arrives, Hernandez suggests commuting residents sign up for traffic alerts and become very familiar with the various web sites that list street closures and updates for ongoing projects.
“I would advise them to receive notices about road work,” she said. “Take advantage of our online resources … Know where to go for information, for the city, county and ADOT. Knowing where to go for information is key.”
Dustin Krugel, an ADOT spokesman working closely on the South Mountain Freeway project, echoes Hernandez and says motorists must be prepared for the inevitable delays and detours that will accompany the estimated $175 billion project.
“While ADOT will take precautions to limit the impact of construction and keep local traffic moving, there will be lane restrictions and occasional closures that will be necessary,” Krugel said. “ADOT is urging motorists who travel near the South Mountain Freeway to sign up for traffic alerts, allow extra travel time, slow down in construction work zones and plan ahead.”
Every Thursday, the project team issues a traffic alert listing the lane restrictions and closures for the coming week. Krugel said that subscribers who sign up can receive their alert via email or text message. More than 10,000 subscribers have already signed up for weekly South Mountain Freeway traffic alerts.
City of Phoenix
Safety and Neighborhood Traffic Section
Traffic Complaint Hotline
Street Transportation Main
Street Maintenance Dispatch
South Mountain Freeway Project Team
Para Español: (623) 239-4558
Maricopa County Department of Transportation
Useful web sites