we build Arizona
Babeu, state reps press for return of HURF funds
January 3, 2014
Road connecting San Tan Valley, Apache Junction cited as one of most dangerous in all of Arizona
SAN TAN VALLEY – With three fatal rollover crashes in the last four months, Pinal County sheriff Paul Babeu addressed traffic safety concerns on Ironwood Road on Thursday morning, standing in front of the very road he calls dangerous.
Ironwood Road is the main transportation route that connects Apache Junction and San Tan Valley.
Ironwood is a divided four-lane road, but its appearance is deceiving.
“A lot of people believe that this a freeway because it’s two lanes (on each side),” Babeu said. “So people often go 65 (mph), and oftentimes they tell that to our deputies.”
Problem is, the posted speed limits in that stretch alternate between 45 and 50 mph.
But that’s not the only problem.
There’s no raised median in many areas, no guardrails and nowhere to pull over, like a shoulder or what Babeu called a “breakdown lane.” In the last four years, he said there have been between 57 and 95 collisions annually on this stretch of road.
Since September 2013, three crashes resulted in death; one of the deceased was under the influence of alcohol. The most recent fatality, which occurred Dec. 2, took the life of a 28-year-old mother.
Babeu said the woman tried to pull over, but because the road slopes downward at the outside edges, she lost control of her vehicle when she attempted to steer back onto the roadway.
“When her wheels turned, that’s when she rolled, and she was ejected from the car,” he said.
State Reps. T.J. Shope (R-Coolidge), Frank Pratt (R-Casa Grande) and Doug Coleman (R-Apache Junction) also attended Thursday’s press conference in a show of support for recovering Highway User Revenue Fund monies that have been partially diverted to the Department of Public Safety.
Shope said he strongly supports the Department of Public Safety; however, he said the department was already fully funded by the Legislature and said the HURF monies should go back to transportation projects. He said the County Supervisors Association of Arizona and the League of Arizona Cities and Towns have also asked for the totality of HURF funds to be restored.
At the State Capitol, Shope said, support for the restoration of HURF is growing.
“I believe [support] has not been higher at any point,” he said.
Shope said the issue with HURF funds began about four years ago, when the Legislature implemented what he called “Draconian” budget cuts during the Great Recession.
Babeu said. Interim Pinal County manager Greg Stanley told the Sheriff’s Office that Pinal County is underfunded by $1.3 million annually in HURF monies.
Shope said restoring those funds – in Pinal County and across the state – is important not just for safety reasons, but because improved transportation is the key to strengthening economic development.
In a statement, Pratt advocated for restoration of HURF monies and “for Pinal County to direct this additional money to make needed safety improvements to Ironwood Road.”
Although unincorporated, San Tan Valley boasts the largest population base in Pinal County, with estimates ranging from 85,000 to 90,000 people – and growing – in the area. Ironwood Road connects San Tan Valley residents with not only Apache Junction, but also Phoenix via U.S. 60.
“This stretch of roadway was never designed for this volume of traffic,” Pinal County attorney Lando Voyles said in a statement.
Babeu said there are no “design flaws” with Ironwood – he said it’s more an issue of a road that was designed for less traffic at slower speeds – but he suggested three safety improvements for the road, including a median divider of concrete jersey barriers or cable highway barriers; a breakdown lane or shoulder for north/south traffic; and gradual slopes on the edges of the roadway.
“This is an expected problem, I think, for a fast-growing county,” he said. “We’re trying to bring other leaders in who can help us solve this.”