Construction nightmare at Cooper and Guadalupe to end soon - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Construction nightmare at Cooper and Guadalupe to end soon

August 10th, 2017 development
Construction nightmare at Cooper and Guadalupe to end soon

Story and photos by Melody Birkett

Nearly a year has passed since construction crews first took bulldozers and other heavy equipment to the intersection of Cooper and Guadalupe roads in Gilbert. Ever since, traffic has been restricted to a lane in each direction.

But there is some good news: Town officials believe the project will be completed by September rather than October.

“So we will be ahead of schedule,” said Toby Crooks, senior project manager for the town.

The project is making improvements to the intersection, such as widening it to provide three travel lanes and a bike lane in each direction, adding raised median islands to provide safer turning movements, as well as curb, gutter and sidewalk.

Drainage improvements for storm drain capacity is being reconfigured throughout the intersection, and improvements at the Union Pacific Rail Road tracks will provide for more efficient and safer travel during train crossings. Utility relocations and improvements will also take place to accommodate the project.

Crooks explained that a lot of things are out of the town’s control because it needs to coordinate with other entities, such as utilities, Salt River Project irrigation, SRP power distribution, communication, and the Union Pacific Railroad.

“For instance, irrigation has yearly dry-ups,” Crooks said. “We have to plan our construction activities around when the irrigation lines – these are large distribution pipes – are replaced and when SRP is no longer running water for their annual dry-up.”

As a result, there sometimes might be a false perception that there is no continuous work to get the intersection reopened, he said.

“We might be working at nights, or we’re waiting for another piece to be completed before we can get ahead. Public perception is very strong and a lot of times accurate, but sometimes, it’s not.”

A main reason for tearing up the intersection is to make safety improvements.

“The railroad interconnect system, which ties their signal system to the town’s, was on the older side of things,” Crooks said. This new “system enhances safety by advanced detection systems that go back a mile in each direction to make sure there isn’t a car stranded in the intersection because the gates closed. It’ll make sure to clear the intersection in its entirety before the train comes through.”

Traffic flow is another priority.

“So, we’re adding another through lane which will help clear that intersection so more people can get through on each signal cycle,” Crooks said.

“As part of that, since we’re adding that lane, we usually install medians, which helps to control people turning left out of certain areas so they’re not creating safety hazards,” Crooks added. “It’ll be an add/drop, so once you get to the intersection it’ll become three lanes, just to get everybody into the intersection and out. And then, as you leave the intersection, it’ll drop back down to two, which is very common,” he said.

Median street LED lighting is also being added for efficiency. Pipes are being replaced that are less likely to fail. All trees will be low-water type. Dedicated bike lanes are being installed along with medians, irrigation and landscaping.

“If we were going to open this intersection up and do the road improvements and the safety improvements, it made all of the sense in the world to upgrade all of the older infrastructure as well,” Crooks said.

Once the project is complete, he hopes constructions crews won’t have to return for a long time. In August, there will be an intense weekend project with crews adding a final layer of asphalt. “In one weekend, we’ll pave the entire intersection, rather than take two weeks to pave it,” he said.

The town knows that such a project needs to be completed within the least amount of time.

“The patience of everybody out there has been wonderful,” Crooks said. “I know that the contractor, Hunter, and the other individuals helping us get this project complete and done right have been amazing to work with.”

Crook said the town has also tried to work with area business owners.

“The business owners are frustrated and we get it,” he said. “I’m always here to hear them out and see if there are some things we can do… We really do want to make sure businesses succeed… We don’t want to have to come back and replace a pipe in five years and open this intersection back up and inconvenience the businesses again.”

Marzocchi Imports owner Gerard Marzocchi said he has lost income of $15,000-$20,000 each month due to the construction. The vehicle repair shop is located on the southeast corner of the intersection.

“We lost basically the street business, the oil changes, the services, all the fluid services,” he said. “And since we work on a particular type of vehicle, they’re all German, from Mercedes Benz, Land Rover, and BMW, they might not want to drive through the construction to bring their car here.”

As for how the new medians will impact his business, he’s not yet sure. Marzocchi is concerned that customers have to pass his business and make a U-turn to access it.

Whitfill Nursery is located on the northwest corner of Cooper and Guadalupe roads. Manager Nancy Edwards said that surprisingly, the nursery has not been impacted by the construction. “Pretty much all of our customers are loyal customers. We’ve been here 35 years. They know where we are. If they really want something, they’re going to come,” she said.

Edwards said the construction may have even worked to the nursery’s advantage.

“I think, a lot of times, because of the slowdown in traffic out in front, people notice us more than they would be if they were zooming past at 45-50 mph,” she said.

She added the construction company, Hunter Contracting Co., coordinated with the nursery to work on its entryway during its slow season rather than in May, which is a busy time.

Then there are the businesses at Cooper and Baseline roads, just north of the construction. Whitfill Nursery customer Kathy Camilon said the construction has changed where she shops. As an example, she used to frequently visit the shopping center on the southwest corner of Baseline and Cooper roads where Kohl’s is located, and used to get groceries from the Walmart across the street. Not anymore.

“We go to Fry’s… at Warner and Cooper instead of the Walmart at Baseline and Cooper,” she said.

A customer at Marzocchi Imports said he only goes there because he’s loyal to the owner. He said it’s faster to go through downtown Gilbert with the 25 mph speed limit and added traffic lights than it is to go through the construction zone at Cooper and Guadalupe roads.

He pointed out that people are creatures of habit and many drivers have found alternative routes and will probably continue using them after the construction is finished.