By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia
Area residents and commuters may soon get some relief from traffic snarls along Bullard Avenue.
Surprise leaders voted to accept $1,177,420 in federal grant funding through the Maricopa Association of Governments at the Feb. 20 regular City Council meeting at City Hall, 16000 N. Civic Center Plaza.
With funding now secured, the construction phase of the $3.3 million Arizona Department of Transportation project – entitled Multi-Modal Improvements on Bullard Avenue between Greenway Road and Peoria Avenue – can now move forward, according to Surprise Transportation Planning Manager Martin Lucero.
“To be able to accept the additional funding, we had to be at 100 percent design. We were at 100 percent design in October, which was a little bit ahead of schedule,” Mr. Lucero said. “What we’re going to do is go out – as soon as we have authority by council to either use general funds or to use these additional federal funds – we’ll go ahead and go out to bid here as soon as we can and we’ll be awarding, hopefully, in early spring and under construction just as the school year ends.”
In 2017, city officials applied through MAG for a Federal Fiscal Close Out Fund to provide funding to complete the design.
Close out funds come from other federally funded projects across the Valley, which fail to use their funding in the time required. MAG allows cities to apply to use those funds on shovel-ready improvement projects, rather than losing the funds altogether.
The Bullard project will include: three new school crossings; installation of new traffic signals at the Sweetwater and Acoma intersections; protected, five-foot-wide bike lanes; a raised, landscaped median from Greenway to Waddell; and two vehicle lanes in both directions from Greenway to Peoria.
Construction of the traffic signals will come first, because of their likely impact on improving traffic flow in the area, Mr. Lucero explained.
“We’ll try to hit the two signalized intersections first, because those affect the most individuals and also affect all of our schools. And then we’ll try to spread out from there,” Mr. Lucero said.
Among area stakeholders likely affected by the project is Legacy Traditional School, 14506 W. Sweetwater Ave., which is located just east of Bullard Avenue. School officials welcome the new traffic signal, according to Legacy spokesman Matthew Benson.
“We support the city of Surprise in its planning for a new traffic signal along Bullard Avenue and believe this will improve safety for both pedestrians and motorists,” Mr. Benson said in an email statement. “In the meantime, Legacy Traditional School has been taking steps to reduce congestion associated with morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up at our campus.”
Meanwhile, school officials are taking steps to mitigate traffic congestion in the area, he stated.
“We are hiring two off-duty police officers to help direct traffic, staggering student pick-up times and employing industry-leading software to more efficiently match students with vehicles and prevent back-ups each afternoon,” Mr. Benson stated.
Rancho Gabriela resident Chris Judd, who has lived in the area since 2005, has been anxious to see improvements along Bullard since city officials reconfigured the roadway in 2015, reducing it down to one lane in each direction and adding golf car lanes. That is when the trouble began, he said.
“The immediate effect was confusion,” Mr. Judd said. “People would use the golf cart lane to pass on the right. People new to the area still drive down the lane without realizing that it is not a vehicle lane. The paint striping was painted over the existing lines and now the top layer has worn off, so the golf cart lane looks like a standard vehicle lane in some places.”
Following a public backlash to the changes, city officials launched the Bullard Avenue Task Force, which in October 2015 recommended returning the roadway to its former configuration, with two new traffic signals, as well as two car lanes and a bike lane in each direction.
Mr. Judd has criticized the city’s response to the problem, saying the Bullard issue was his main motivation to run for city council this fall.
“We took a perfectly good road that needed traffic to slow down for safety. Instead of changing the speed limit signs and enforcement patterns, the city took the longest and most expensive route they could to find a solution,” Mr. Judd said. “The amount of wasted taxpayer dollars and the apparent lack of leadership are big factors that compelled me to run.”
Mr. Judd is one of three candidates challenging incumbent Todd Tande for his District 6 council seat in the Tuesday, Aug. 28 primary election. The other candidates are Chandler Brown and Eric Cultum.
ADOT spokesman Doug Nintzel said in an email statement the project will go out to bid for construction contractors by the end of March and the contract is expected to be awarded in May. He confirmed construction should commence as the school year concludes and completion is anticipated for early fall.
Because the roadway improvements are federally funded, ADOT will administer the project on the city’s behalf, Mr. Nintzel added.
Once the contractor is chosen, city officials will work to keep residents informed about project progress, Mr. Lucero said.
“Once the award has been made and we understand the full timing based off the contractor selected, we’ll make sure we get that out to all our individuals who have asked for those types of updates as well as anybody who’s signed for any transportation updates,” Mr. Lucero added.