It’s been almost two months since the Pima County Board of Supervisors voted to shift $872,000 in road repair money from Supervisor Ally Miller’s district to fix Colossal Cave Road.
Since then, a debate has raged between Miller, the other supervisors and county officials regarding whether Colossal Cave is really hazardous enough to warrant immediate attention.
The supervisors voted to move the money after Vail School District officials spoke at a February board meeting, describing the chaos caused by traffic in front of Acacia Elementary School and Old Vail Middle School, which are both on Colossal Cave Road.
The conditions were so bad that the school district offered to contribute $100,000 of its own money to help fix the road.
Miller has since countered by saying North Thornydale Road, on the northwest side, is more dangerous for children who attend nearby schools.
Thornydale, between West Cortaro Farms Road and Linda Vista Boulevard, was originally on the list of streets in her district to receive some of the money before it was taken away.
Miller’s office conducted its own analysis of Thornydale versus Colossal Cave with statistics from the Pima County Department of Transportation.
According to the analysis, Thornydale serves seven schools with more than 5,800 students, mostly from the Marana Unified School District. By comparison, Colossal Cave only has Acacia and Old Vail, which have 1,308 students.
In addition, the analysis claims Thornydale has had 156 crashes within the past two years, compared to 42 on Colossal Cave.
Thornydale also has a higher traffic volume than Colossal Cave, Miller said.
Miller appears to make a strong case for Thornydale, but Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said in a memo last week that her statistics are “not comparative and, therefore, misleading.”
According to the memo, Miller is referring to a stretch of Thornydale Road that is two-and-a-half miles long with four traffic signals.
She is comparing it to a segment of Colossal Cave Road that is a mile long with no traffic lights.
Most of the crashes on Thornydale were at intersections with traffic lights, Huckelberry said.
When the county compared crashes at intersections without lights, Colossal Cave had a higher crash rate.
As a result, Miller is comparing two roadways with different lengths and configurations, especially since Thornydale is mostly a three-lane road while Colossal Cave only has two lanes, he said.
Huckelberry also countered the claim that Thornydale serves more students.
Mountain View High School is the only school on Thornydale within the two-and-half mile stretch — it sits on the southwest corner at Linda Vista Boulevard.
Tortolita Middle School is the only other Marana school where students are likely to cross Thornydale on their way to class, said district spokeswoman Tamara Crawley.
The school district employs a crossing guard to guide students across Thornydale at West Hardy Road, about a half-mile from Tortolita, Crawley said.
There’s also a charter school on Cortaro Farms Road near Thornydale and a childcare center on Thornydale at Magee, which wasn’t originally designated for any repairs.
The most significant difference between the two roads might be the improvements each road was scheduled to receive.
Thornydale was designated for paving work, which likely wouldn’t have reduced crashes or decreased traffic volume, Huckelberry said.
County officials want to add a third lane to Colossal Cave and, possibly, right turn lanes in front of the two schools, which would alleviate traffic congestion and likely decrease crashes.
There’s no doubt families who use Thornydale would benefit from any improvement to the road, including road paving.
But Colossal Cave is a bigger priority for county officials.
And, in their eyes, they have the numbers to prove it.