The project to add new lanes and other improvements to Loop 101 between Loop 202 and Shea Boulevard is nearly done. Additional vehicle lanes are in place, and two new northbound travel lanes near the Loop 101/Loop 202 interchange make it easier for traffic to safely merge near the McKellips and McDowell interchanges.
Travel times for thousands of commuters have been shortened, and no more major closures are planned.
If you’re a regular user of this section of freeway, your first reaction might be “Fin-al-ly!” Relief is understandable after over two years of lane restrictions and freeway closures, but you might also want to consider, “Nice job!” The project, which started in August 2014, is on track to finish ahead of schedule and went so well that American Infrastructure magazine named it “Road Project of the Year” for 2015.
Walt Brodzinski, right of way manager for the city of Scottsdale, credits exceptional behind-the-scenes collaboration for the project’s success.
“We had very good communication all the way through the project between the state, affected jurisdictions and the contractor. That’s not always the case,” said Brodzinski.
As a project stretches on, communication sometimes lapses, and tension between the contractor and communities can result in frustrating project interruptions and unnecessary traffic delays.
“Typically, a contractor wants to close everything all the time, while the cities don’t want anything closed any of the time. We have to meet somewhere in the middle,” said Brodzinski. “Pulice Construction had a lot of integrity and was great about proactively involving and listening to local jurisdictions.”
The Arizona Department of Transportation, which managed the construction, facilitated weekly planning meetings for all the stakeholders to help ensure communication continued. ADOT also solicited public input during the project, which often led traffic engineering plan adjustments.
The location of this particular stretch of Loop 101 added to the complexity of collaborating and coordinating traffic. While the right of way is controlled by ADOT, the freeway is near the border of both the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and Scottsdale.
“Loop 101 is really heavily traveled as a commuter freeway, but it also provides a lot of revenue generating ability for businesses on the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community,” said Scott Thigpen, assistant director of engineering and construction services for the Community. “It’s significant for a lot of people.”
More than adding a few feet of pavement
Adding two new right lanes to a freeway might not, at first, sound all that complicated. Until, that is, you consider every modification and detail—from reconfiguring ramps to adding a fresh layer of rubberized asphalt to preserving 100-year-old cacti—that had to happen to improve one of the busiest stretches of freeway in the Valley. (Photo courtesy of ADOT)
Every bridge, underpass, bike crossing, canal crossing and drainage channel had to be widened. Every ramp and merge lane had to be reoriented. Every overhead traffic sign had to be changed. Fiber used for closed-circuit traffic cameras and overhead Intelligent Transportation System message signs had to be upgraded. Thousands of plants had to be carefully moved, preserved and then replanted. (Photo courtesy of Pulice Construction)
“The only thing that really stayed were those inner four lanes,” said Thigpen.
And through all of that, traffic still needed to move. A lot of traffic.
The road much traveled
Typically freeways are busy in one direction or the other in the morning or evening due to commuter traffic, but this section of Loop 101 is bookended by both employment hubs and large suburban areas in Scottsdale to the north and in Chandler, Mesa, Tempe and Gilbert to the south.
“The rush hours are busy in both directions along this stretch of Loop 101,” said Madhu Reddy, district engineer for ADOT’s Central Construction District. “There’s plenty of traffic outside of the rush hours, too. The freeway handles well over 150,000 vehicles on an average day, which is a key reason for our improvement project.”
Because it’s so heavily traveled and important to so many communities, maintaining access for traffic during the project was prioritized. Much of the work was restricted to nights and weekends, and the planning team avoided having construction on adjacent intersections. If the Thomas interchange was closed for bridge work, for example, then the Indian School and McDowell interchanges were kept open.
“It might be compared to solving a puzzle,” said Reddy. “Our project staff worked with Pulice Construction to minimize the impacts of closures on drivers, but many drivers deserve our thanks for their patience and understanding throughout the project.”
Even the Valley of the Sun has its weather challenges
The biggest challenge to keeping the project ahead of schedule over the last several months was waiting for the right weather conditions for rubberized asphalt paving. The best results for adding the smooth and durable pavement occur when temperatures are between 75 and 110 degrees, which can be a challenge in the Valley of the Sun. The last full week of May, for example, saw low temperatures in the 60s. By the following week, highs reached 115.
Freeway-widening work was further restricted to event-free weekends, not an easy chore when you realize there were 27 major events in the area, including a Super Bowl that attracted an estimated 500,000 visitors to the ESPN fan festival at Scottsdale Fashion Square and two annual Waste Management Phoenix Opens, which draw more attendees than any other golf tournament in the world. There were also two Barrett-Jackson car shows, an Ironman race, a marathon, and spring training games for four teams at three fields in Scottsdale, Mesa and the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community.
“We worked with our partners well ahead of the start of the project to make sure people had access to and from those events,” said Julie Gadsby, ADOT’s assistant district engineer who led the agency’s team overseeing the project. “We also had contingency plans to make sure roads could be opened quickly for emergency vehicles, if necessary. We definitely relied on keeping the communication channels open.”
On the weekends when stretches of freeway were closed for paving, the team provided multiple detour options to help keep traffic flowing and to minimize the impact on nearby neighborhoods.
With only some landscaping and installation of Americans with Disabilities Act-required sidewalk ramps on crossroads to complete, the project is expected to be finished by mid-November.
And it appears that many drivers feel these changes were worth the wait.
“We’ve received compliments about the difference the improvements have already made,” said Reddy.
To learn more about the project, you can read ADOT’s recent article about the project or visit their Loop 101 Improvement Project webpage.