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Bell Road overdue for a facelift in Surprise

Landscaping, lighting on list for fixes

Posted 6/27/22

Along a six-mile stretch of Bell Road from Grand Avenue to the Beardsley Canal, the city of Surprise has 426 palm trees dotting the median along that stretch.

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Subscriber Exclusive

Bell Road overdue for a facelift in Surprise

Landscaping, lighting on list for fixes


Along a six-mile stretch of Bell Road from Grand Avenue to the Beardsley Canal, the city of Surprise has 426 palm trees dotting the median along that stretch.

The medians also have grass, shrubs, other trees and light fixtures that need refurbishing.

Surprise officials want to redo the landscaping and lighting on the route, which features 45 medians covering approximately 6.08 acres. Of that space, 3.47 acres of it is grass.

The price tag for the landscaping project is around $6 million, with irrigation upgrades to cost about half of that total.

The irrigation pumping system the city is currently using was installed in 1985, and city officials said the system is beyond its useful lifespan.

Part of the problem is high maintenance costs thanks to an average of two major leaks per year.

The current system is also an energy hog as the city has to power 38 irrigation controllers and 221 irrigation valves across the span.

Options include removing the grass and using decomposed granite only. Another option is using artificial turf, supplemented by the current array of palm trees. The most noticeable option would be removing the grass, trees and shrubs all together and using the decomposed granite only.

The options with plants and trees would require some water through an upgraded irrigation system.

City officials said there two problems with removing the vegetation from the medians.

One is a safety issue with oncoming headlights possibly becoming more of a distraction for some drivers. The other is the city wouldn’t be adhering to its city code for landscaping.

Big savings

The savings in water and money each year could be big for the city, depending on which option it ultimately chooses.

City officials estimate removing grass in the median could save up to 13.3 million gallons of water each year.

That could equate to about $60,000 in water savings, which also doesn’t take into the environmental benefits of saving water in a time of drought.

“I think it’s great that we would be saving millions of millions of millions of [gallons of] water,” Vice Mayor Aly Cline said.

Plus, leaks from the aging irrigation system would no longer undermine the pavement on Bell Road.

City officials said Bell paving maintenance is estimated to be about $20 million over 15 years, but this figured could be cut in half by reducing water damage on Bell Road from leaks.

A new irrigation system would also be more efficient and easier to maintain, Surprise Public Works Director Kristin Tytler said.

Right now, the city forks over about $50,000 per year just in leak repairs along Bell.

Streetlight talk

City officials are also pushing the city council to consider lighting improvements along the six-mile stretch.

Tytler said existing lighting is not up to current standards for a six-lane arterial that attracts 50,000-plus vehicles per day.

City transportation officials found out the hard way that it’s hard to replace the fancy decorative city light posts that adorn Bell Road when they’re hit or damaged.

The city needs to remove all lighting in the medians and replace lighting on the outside edge of the roadway with updated fixtures.

A move to a more standard fixture light post could cost more than $8 million to replace at around $3,500 per light.

Keeping the decorative option could cost nearly triple that at $10,351 per light.

“I like our decorative lights, but I don’t like our decorative lights for three times the cost,” Councilman Chris Judd said.

The city said about 150 decorative lights to be replaced.

“That makes a big difference whether you’re doing $3,000 for lights or $10,000 for lights,” Cline said.

Tytler said the posts won’t all be replaced because the newer LED lights the new posts would use could cover a greater area.

“When we take out these lights we really are erasing an identity of the city. So we need to keep that in mind when we put new lights in,” Councilman Ken Remley said.

The city wants to upgrade the irrigation, landscaping and lighting at the same time to limit construction disruptions and decrease overall combined construction costs.

It would be done in phases with work going west to east starting in the Beardsley area

Tytler said the phasing helps not only with the disruptions, but also the budget.

“It’s a shame to have to give up that grass,” Remley said.

Jason Stone can be reached at

Surprise, landscaping, lighting, Surprise City Council


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