Special report: Upgrades may cure Litchfield Park’s dangerous intersections

Traffic travels northbound along Dysart Road near the intersection of Dysart Road and Indian School Road on Tuesday, April 9 in Litchfield Park. [Jacob Stanek/Independent Newsmedia]

By Mark Carlisle
Independent Newsmedia

Road improvements along Camelback Road near Litchfield Road could improve traffic at Litchfield Park’s two most dangerous intersections.

The intersections at Camelback and Litchfield roads and Camelback and Dysart roads accounted for nearly three quarters of the collisions at major intersections in Litchfield Park between 2016 and 2018, according to information provided by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s office.

This graphic shows the number of collisions at seven major intersections in and around Litchfield Park between 2016 and 2018, according to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. [Graphic by Mark Carlisle/Independent Newsmedia]
There were 128 collisions at Camelback and Dysart roads in the past three years and 94 at Camelback and Litchfield roads. No other intersection in the city had more than 36.

These intersections also led the city in traffic violations, with MCSO recording 15 violations at Camelback and Dysart roads and 16 violations at Camelback and Litchfield roads between 2016 and 2018. No other intersection in the city had more than seven.

While those intersections are under county jurisdictions, the city is working with the county to improve Camelback Road in a way that could alleviate traffic problems at those busy intersections.

Bill Stephens

“Development is on the horizon. Road improvements are on the horizon as well to accommodate changes in that traffic flow because of the developments,” City Manager Bill Stephens said.

The changes would largely take place west of Litchfield Road. City staff is in discussions with the Maricopa County Department of Transportation to widen Camelback Road between Litchfield Road and the city’s western boundary at the Bullard Wash Trail, extending the lanes and extending the road to four lanes from two. It would also add a right-turn lane into the planned Jackie Robinson Little League Field.

The agreement with the county would include Litchfield Park taking ownership of that stretch of Camelback Road from the county, which is a county priority.

“It was a county two-lane road forever and now that growth has happened, we’ve gone and talked to them (the county) about the things that are going on at that corner, and mostly west(bound), and said, ‘Would you be willing to work with us and improve that roadway? And if you do,’ because this is something they want, ‘we’ll take it over,’” Mr. Stephens said.

The proposed changes would be implemented in two phases. Expanding the eastbound lanes on the south side of Camelback Road will require the Maricopa County Governing Board to budget money for the project and enter into an intergovernmental agreement for the city.

City staff and Mayor Tom Schoaf have met with County Supervisor Clint Hickman and City Engineer Woody Scoutten has met with MCDOT’s engineer to discuss these improvements.

It might take a few years for the county to budget the money, Mr. Scoutten said.

“Their capital fund for these kind of street improvements is pretty well programmed for the next five years,” he said. “So, they would have to shoehorn some money into that program or reassess and reallocate monies to make it work. I’m not saying that’s going to be five years out, but it might be another one or two years.”

Expanding the westbound lanes on the north side of Camelback Road just west of Litchfield Road will be part of the city’s agreement with Sun Health for its new development of assisted living and independent living homes north of Camelback Road.

City staff is reviewing the plans Sun Health has submitted. After Sun Health adapts its plans to any of staff’s request, it will resubmit the plans for City Council’s final approval. The city and Sun Health would then enter into a development agreement, which would require Sun Health to make street improvements.

A major problem at the Camelback and Litchfield roads intersection the proposed improvements would solve is that westbound, the road quickly merges from two lanes to one after the intersections. With the improvements, the road would be two lanes in each direction throughout.

“That’s just a textbook definition of a bottleneck right there,” said Public Works Director Brian Goodman. “…That would definitely aid in traffic over there.”

The changes would also shift the roadway slightly north, creating more room along the Litchfield Greens neighborhood and cutting into the right of way for the Sun Health property.

East of Litchfield Road, the city wants to extend the sidewalk on the north side of Camelback Road from the end for the Fry’s shopping center to Dysart Road.

A car turns eastbound along Dysart Road at the intersection of Dysart Road and Indian School Road on Tuesday, April 9 in Litchfield Park. [Jacob Stanek/Independent Newsmedia]
The city also wants to extend the westbound right turn lane (turning north) at Camelback and Litchfield Roads.

“This would give them an opportunity to plan ahead and be in the curb lane ready to make that right turn. That obviously reduces the amount of traffic in the other travel lane,” Mr. Scoutten said.

Sun Health’s assisted living and independent living homes will create more residents and more drivers in the area.

“There’ll be more traffic flow. And so, the nice thing is as it heads westbound, across the intersection where it now narrows, it will be wider, and they’ll have right-turn lanes. So, that traffic will get out of the way and traffic will continue to flow westbound,” Mr. Stephens said.

Development is coming to the other intersections along Camelback Road as well. A car wash, a Dignity Health emergency room hospital, an Autozone and a self-storage business are being added at the southeast corner of Camelback and Dysart Roads. There are about 10 more acres on the interior of the property that have been earmarked for commercial development.

The project will include a widening of the southeast corner of the intersection.

At Camelback and El Mirage roads, a Burger King and two automotive businesses have been added at the southwest corner. At the southeast corner, in El Mirage, a residential development is being added.

Improving roads without increasing speed

Road improvements such as more lanes and deceleration turn lanes can also increase speeds on roadways. City staff noted that Litchfield Road between Indian School Road and Wigwam Boulevard has no turns on the northbound side and only one turn with a deceleration lane on the southbound side.

“There’s no other reason to slow. So, everyone’s just pedal to the metal,” Mr. Stephens said.

This month, City Council directed staff to study speeding trends on interior city roads like Litchfield Road, Villa Nueva Drive, Bird Lane, Old Litchfield Road, Desert Avenue, Village Parkway and Wigwam Boulevard.

Mr. Scoutten said the “Three Es” of speed control are education, enforcement and engineering. Engineering involves making physical changes to the road to make drivers feel less comfortable speeding, such as speed humps or narrowing lanes.

Mr. Scoutten noted the city does not want Camelback Road to be any wider than four lanes within Litchfield Park. Though he noted traffic amounts on Litchfield Road have risen starkly over the last decade, he said he does not want more than four lanes there either.

“I have a philosophy that, you know, ‘Build it and they will come,’” he said, saying roadways with more lanes will attract more traffic.

“We’re trying to improve the streets and roads as well as, at the same time, put things in place that help to calm or slow traffic down so that we don’t have excessive speed,” Mr. Stephens said.

Mark Carlisle can be reached at mcarlisle@newszap.com. Follow him on Twitter @mwcarlisle.

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