Raintree Relief

Raintree Relief

Plans are under way to relieve Scottsdale Airpark auto congestion

Does the phrase “You can’t get there from here” ring any bells? Or if you do manage to make your way from Point A to Point B, is it often at a snail’s pace accompanied by a lot of screeching tires and honking horns?

Recognizing that the network of roadways that provide access to and circulation within this destination is a problem for drivers who would like to end up at Scottsdale Airpark—without the attendant hassles—the City of Scottsdale is taking forward motion to provide roadway relief.

It will come in the form of the Raintree Drive Extension, designed to simplify the route from Hayden Road to Scottsdale Road and mitigate some of the traffic congestion currently experienced on Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard. The $39 million Raintree project is one component of the Scottsdale Airpark Area Circulation Study that seeks to improve mobility in and around the Airpark. Access to and around the Airpark area was termed “a critical component” in the City of Scottsdale Transportation Master Plan, which was formally adopted in 2008.

According to city officials, the project will improve driving in the Airpark on both sides of Scottsdale Airport. The Airpark is the city’s main employment center (third largest in the metro area after Sky Harbor Airport and Downtown Phoenix) and the region around Frank Lloyd Wright, Hayden, and the Loop 101 interchange is one of the most congested areas in Scottsdale.

In government-speak: “This option will allow direct connection from Loop 101 at the Raintree Drive interchange to the Scottsdale and Thunderbird roads intersection around the south end of the runway.”

Currently, there is no direct connection to get from one side of the airport to the other, and this series of Raintree Drive modifications is intended to create a single route.

“The current zig-zag pattern from Scottsdale Road via Thunderbird, Redfield, and Hayden to 101 is about a 2-mile trip,” according to City of Scottsdale Senior Traffic Engineer George Williams.

“When this project is completed, the Scottsdale east to Raintree will be one road—the distance will be about 15 percent shorter and the delay in travel time should be cut by 25 percent. As part of the package, we’ll be replacing four traffic signals with three roundabouts, which will offer greater capacity with less delay, less fuel consumption and less polluting emissions.”

Running the numbers, Williams says that while traffic flow varies on a day-by-day basis, roughly 14,000 to 20,000 vehicles currently make the daily trip under today’s configuration.

To be built in phases through 2020 (earlier optimistic construction estimates of summer 2014 to fall 2018 had to be modified), the first segment of construction is expected to get underway next spring with tentative full-project completion by the cool weather months of 2020.

Bi-weekly construction meetings are held to review all aspects of the plan. About a third of the design phase has been completed and the next phase should take it to 60 percent. Land acquisition should take the rest of the calendar year before plans go back to the City of Scottsdale design review board. By that time, design should be at 90 percent and if approved, construction documents will be finalized with work getting underway a year from now.

City Council members have given blessings to a $1.44 million engineering services contract with a California firm (Aecom Technical Services) to produce final construction documents for the first stretch. If the design aspect is completed by this fall and construction goes forward, the first segment from Scottsdale to Hayden roads could be completed within a year after that.

“Our design drawings are approaching the 50 percent mark and we anticipate that part will be done by year end,” said Project Manager Alison Tymkiw. “Once we finalize the design aspect of this segment, construction should take approximately 18 months to completion. Concurrently, we’ll be moving ahead by designing the next segment.”

“We’d always like to be faster, but design is taking a bit longer than planned as we try to come up with the best design possible, worrying each detail along the way,” she continued. “It’s better to sweat the details now in the planning stage than having concerns while a cement mixer kills time waiting on a decision. It’s the old ‘measure twice, cut once’ idea, and we don’t want any sidewalks running through trees. When you do construction, you don’t want to have to re-design the blueprint if you can help it.”

Tymkiw pointed out that the City is working with property owners who might be affected by the project and mitigating their concerns wherever possible.

Improvements will include roundabouts at five intersections: 73rd Street and Thunderbird Road; 76th Place and Redfield Road; Hayden Road and Raintree Drive; Raintree and 82nd Street; and Raintree at Northsight Boulevard. Native plant groupings will add some scenery to the roundabouts, while a 50 plus-foot-tall sculpture, designed by artist/architect Philip K. Smith III, will serve as a beacon at Hayden and Raintree. The iconic sculpture is intended to “engage the ever-changing desert light and expansive sky.”

“Artwork for the extension seeks to merge the beauty and change inherent in the desert with modern, technological, streamlined realities of this commercial area,” said Smith in a report to the Scottsdale Public Art group. What commuters will see from the LA-born large-scale public sculpture artist is “the precision of geometry and light with the organic qualities of nature. I am inspired by the colors and growth patterns of native flora and fauna, and I create public art to be innovative and dynamic, a beckoning identity for the community,” he said.

Kevin Vaughan-Brubaker explained the artistic side of the overall project: “From an aesthetic standpoint, the roundabout landscaping will provide less of a commercial feeling and more of a patterned desert collage with native and low-water use plants arranged in ways we don’t normally see in medians. Most public art in Scottsdale is focused on the older southern section, so we’re excited about having some public art on the north side that will draw drivers’ attention without being a distraction.”

This particular project will also include sidewalks and bike lanes. The full Design Concept Report also mentions raised medians, drainage improvements, and minor side street lane configurations. The Raintree Drive Extension initiative is part of the Maricopa Association of Governments Regional Transportation Plan.

A half-percent transportation sales tax from Proposition 400 approved by voters over a decade ago will cover about 70 percent of the cost while the remainder of the expense will come from a city transportation tax. Ultimate project phasing and implementation will be contingent on funding availability and the recommendations of the Transportation Commission and the Scottsdale City Council.

While $39 million is a large number, the project is a less costly alternative to another route, which had called for a tunnel beneath the airport runway at an approximate cost of $75 million.

Commuters can follow project progress by logging on to www.scottsdaleaz.gov/Construction/Raintree.