Here comes the big one.
Starting in the wee morning hours this Wednesday, and lasting for an estimated 25 months, motorists will not be able to pass under Interstate 10 on Ina Road or exit from the interstate in either direction.
This column covered the basics of the closure last December, when the Feb. 15 date was formally announced, so we’ll do just a brief recap here.
The $148 million project — paid for largely by the Regional Transportation Authority with an additional $25 million from Marana — will provide a number of improvements, chief among them an elevated roadway that takes Ina over the interstate and railroad tracks, two additional lanes on Ina west of the interstate, and space for more interstate lanes.
“It’s really going to have a tremendous impact on that local community,” the state’s district engineer, Rod Lane, previously told the Road Runner.
Local and state agencies are taking some measures to lessen some of those less-savory impacts.
The Road Runner learned Friday of one such effort that will ease the situation for drivers: The new West Sunset Road and bridge west of I-10 will be opened to traffic Tuesday, Feb. 14, at 4 p.m.
The project’s contractor, Borderland Construction, will still be working on the new road that runs from North Silverbell Road to I-10, so reduced speed limits and other traffic controls will be in place, but Sunset will still provide an Ina alternative for drivers. County officials said the early opening is specifically intended to “facilitate traffic” impacted by the Ina closure, and the road will be fully complete by the end of spring.
Shortly after that announcement, the Arizona Department of Transportation sent out an email stating the westbound I-10 off ramp at Orange Grove Road will close Wednesday as well, and that traffic will be directed to exit further south at Sunset.
While the westbound frontage road from the Orange Grove on-ramp to Cortaro Road will be closed for the same period, the eastbound frontage road will remain open from Ina south. The county transportation department and others have base traffic counts for the likely alternative routes displaced drivers will take and, once new patterns settle in, they’ll take new counts and adjust traffic signals or take other measures accordingly.
Priscilla Cornelio, Pima County’s transportation director, said an estimated 25,000 cars pass through the Ina-I-10 traffic interchange daily, adding “We won’t know what’s going to happen until they actually close it.”
But if past experience with a similar closures at the interstate are any indication, things may be a little “chaotic” during the first few weeks.
“Everybody thought Armageddon was going to happen, and it didn’t because people went everywhere,” Cornelio said. “I think the same thing is going to happen here.”
And that gets at the problems many of the more than 200 businesses along the Ina corridor — where business access will be maintained throughout the life of the project — are going to face over the next two years. Much of the business in the area comes from spur-of-the-moment decisions of passing drivers, meaning that lower traffic volumes spell less business.
Mark Janezic, who owns the Auto Wash Express on Ina just east of the interstate, said he expects to see a sizable impact on customers for the automatic wash service, though his self-service customers are largely loyal patrons who live nearby.
However, with a number of other Tucson locations and three decades on Ina, Janezic expects to weather the storm well. He also predicts that within six months of completion, traffic will be right back to where it was.
To minimize the hit businesses like Janezic’s take during the project, there are a number of efforts underway.
Marana and the local chamber of commerce paired up to push the message that the area “is open for business,” chamber president Ed Stolmaker told the Road Runner.
Town officials have loosened sign ordinances along the corridor to help businesses get their message out more easily and have suspended fees for putting up those signs, according to Stolmaker and an article in the Marana News. The city also developed a smartphone application, Project Ina, that provides construction updates and information about area businesses, including deals they may be having. The same can be found on the Twitter hashtag: #ProjectIna.
The RTA’s MainStreet Business Assistance Program has also been active in the area. With a $10 million budget over 20 years, that effort has helped local businesses impacted by a number of major transportation projects, like the downtown streetcar.
Its coordinator, Britton Dornquast, said that a custom access map was created for all of the Ina corridor businesses so that they can tell customers how to best get there with the interchange closed. Additionally, most of the over 200 corridor businesses qualify for a wide range of free consulting services.
Javier Avalos, who owns Spectrum Ina Road Auto Collision, said he appreciates Marana and the RTA’s efforts, and has taken advantage of the consulting services and other assistance offered. But what he’s banking on more than anything is the customer loyalty he’s won over 26 years at the same location.
“That’s what is going to carry us along,” he said, adding that he has no doubt his business will do OK.
Beyond that, he has been reaching out to longtime customers and offering pickup service for some customers to make it as convenient as possible for them during the two years. But once the Ina project is complete and the roadways closest to his business can handle more cars more efficiently, Avalos says “the payoff is going to be tremendous.”
DOWN THE ROAD
- North- and southbound travel on North Stone Avenue at its intersection with Speedway will be on hold Tuesday from 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. while crews carry out final paving. Both directions of traffic on Speedway will be reduced to one lane. City officials suggest Main or Sixth avenues as alternatives.
- Nightly lane restrictions on I-10 at its bridge over South Craycroft Road will start Monday and last through Friday. Left lanes in both directions will be closed from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. every night.
- Though a specific start date was not provided, a Southwest Gas contractor will start pipeline work on South Pantano Road between East Broadway and East 22nd Street in mid-February. Work will take place between 7 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. You can expect some traffic restrictions.