The Regional Transportation Authority is working on a new plan to trim the cost of the Grant Road widening project by buying needed right of way sooner rather than later.

Doing it the traditional way means buying the properties as you need them - years from now, when home prices (hopefully) will be higher.

"It doesn't make sense," said RTA transportation services director Jim DeGrood. "If a property is in foreclosure and we're going to have to take it, why don't we acquire it now?"

The new plan is to move more quickly to buy some of the needed properties.

It's a smart idea, said Jim Hogan, owner of the Hogan School of Real Estate and a member of the Grant Road Planning Task Force.

"Property values have not increased and in some cases have declined," he said. "If they have funds available, it would be smart to do that and in the long run save the taxpayers a good amount of money."

The RTA and the city have already missed five opportunities to buy foreclosed properties in the footprint of the planned roadway, according to a value analysis report that looked for ways to save money on the project.

Now most of those homes are occupied, so the RTA will have to pay to relocate those people in addition to a likely higher price for the properties once it buys them.

The road-project plans also have had a chilling effect on property sales along Grant Road, DeGrood said, so the RTA should agree to pay the fair market price now to owners who have had trouble selling.

The 12 homes in the project area that have sold since 2009 had an average price of $72 per square foot. If the price goes up just $20 per square foot, the extra cost would be $290,000, according to the value analysis report.

As a next step, the RTA and the city are finalizing a contract with a right-of-way services company to find out what the best practices are and then come up with a draft policy that the RTA board could vote on. The draft policy would spell out all the details on what to do with the purchased properties.

The new policy and the property buying could start in the spring.

DOWN THE ROAD

• Heads up for nighttime driving on Interstate 10: Expect lane closures this week as crews set up temporary concrete barriers.

On Wednesday, two westbound lanes between Miracle Mile and Ruthrauff Road will be closed from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Then Thursday, one eastbound lane between Ruthrauff and Prince Road will be closed from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.

• More than 1,500 people have participated in a survey about their interest in an intercity train to link Tucson and Phoenix. This is the last week to take the survey online at azdot.gov/intercityrail

On StarNet: View live traffic cameras around Interstate 10 from I-19 to Ina at

Road Q

ROAD Q: Road Runner recently received two questions about school zones.

Karen Harbert wrote to ask what drivers can do when a school has mistakenly left its school zone signs in the road after hours or even all weekend.

And John Kennedy notices his fellow drivers getting irritated at him when he doesn't speed up as soon as he drives past the crosswalk in a school zone.

A: Tucson police Sgt. Matt Ronstadt said it's up to the school to set up and take down the signs, but if the signs are causing a hazard on the weekend, Karen can call 911, and an officer will move the signs or contact school officials.

When driving through a school zone, it's OK to speed up after the crosswalk, Ronstadt said in an email.

"The school zone ends after the motorist passes the crosswalk. ... The intent of the school zone is to get motorists to slow down as they approach the crosswalk where kids might be present," he said. "Once they have passed the crosswalk, the immediate hazard is behind them and they can resume the posted speed, assuming they can do so safely."

Send your Road Q questions by email to roadrunner@azstarnet.com or to 4850 S. Park Ave., Tucson, AZ 85714. Please include first and last names.