At the beginning of the year, the idea of improving Colossal Cave Road was mostly a pipe dream.
Improvement plans for the southeast-side road had been delayed for years due to a lack of funding, and there was no telling when the money would arrive to complete the project.
Now, after scraping together funding sources within the last few months, the county has moved forward with the planning stage for the project, which will widen Colossal Cave between Old Vail Middle School and Acacia Elementary School.
The county has developed a timeline for the $7.3 million project, with a goal of starting construction in May 2016 and finishing at least a year later, according to a county memo.
County officials have already held discussions with representatives from the Union Pacific Railroad and the Arizona Corporation Commission, and will work together to develop a design for modifications at the railroad crossings.
The county and the railroad must complete an agreement, which will outline work and cost responsibilities, before submitting an application to the corporation commission for final approval.
This process should take a year.
The county also will work with utility companies to move equipment and with property owners to acquire land along the road.
The planned improvements will include a center left-turn lane, paved shoulders for bikes and pedestrian paths, a sidewalk for pedestrians and right-turn lanes at the two schools.
The two railroad crossings in the area will be reconstructed as part of the project.
Although construction is still about two years away, the project is further along than anyone could’ve imagined in February, when Vail School District officials pleaded with the county for help.
Colossal Cave Road wasn’t a priority until Vail officials described the heavy traffic along the road, which posed a hazard for students and staffers.
Vail even offered $100,000 to help with improvements.
The descriptions of the traffic chaos prompted the Pima County Board of Supervisors to act quickly.
The board moved $872,000 for road repairs from Supervisor Ally Miller’s northwest district to Colossal Cave Road, to Miller’s dismay.
Miller accused the rest of the board of violating the law when they shifted the money, but the Pima County Attorney’s office deemed their actions legal.
Meanwhile, the county had to figure out how to raise the rest of the money needed to widen the road.
In May, the project received a boost when the county combined two impact fee areas southeast of Tucson, which could supply about $4.8 million.
Colossal Cave Road will also receive about $1.5 million from the Regional Transportation Authority.Still, there are hurdles to clear, especially with improving the railroad crossings and moving utilities.
DOWN THE ROAD
The Arizona Department of Transportation will close one lane of the southbound Interstate 19 exit ramp at Valencia Road tonight.
Crews will close the right lane of the off-ramp from 8 p.m. to 5 p.m. in order to set up a construction barrier along the work area.
ADOT will then add a third lane to the ramp to increase traffic capacity.
Workers will also replace pavement markings and make drainage improvements.
The work should be finished in February 2015.