COOLIDGE — The Coolidge City Council approved a resolution Monday night reaffirming its preference for a future freeway east of State Route 87.
The resolution, which was initially placed on the consent agenda for the evening, was pulled out by Mayor Jon Thompson to give the council an opportunity to voice any comments or concerns. Meanwhile, Eloy prefers a route that follows SR 87.
The "North-South Freeway" is just one of several roadway projects across Pinal County proposed by the Regional Tax Authority and funded through a half-cent excise tax. While the plan was approved by voters in a special election held in November 2017, the RTA tax is currently the subject of a lawsuit, which argues the tax is “illegal”.
But although funding may still be up in the air for the North-South Freeway, the route that proposes linking U.S. 60 in Apache Junction to Interstate 10 near Eloy is currently under environmental review by the Federal Highway Administration and the Arizona Department of Transportation.
The study currently extends approximately 55 miles, passing through the city of Coolidge, the town of Florence and unincorporated regions of Pinal County.
Under the study, ADOT has identified two potential alignments for the corridor — one that lines up to the west, known as Corridor West (W4), and another than runs on the east, known as Corridor East (E4).
While three of the four segments of the freeway’s alignment are agreed upon by all involved communities, the south segment has become a point of contention amongst some neighboring municipalities.
The E4 route would line up with Vail Road, which is much more consistent with Coolidge’s general plan and the industrial development currently taking place in the region, Public Works Director Matt Rencher told the council.
By contrast, W4 relies on the current State Route 87 roadway to connect to its upgraded I-10 interchange. Eloy previously identified reasons why it supports Corridor West, including reduced right-of-way and acquisition costs, making travel more efficient for the community and proximity to downtown Eloy, among other justifications.
Thompson, however, stated that Coolidge identified an eastern alignment as the preferred route the city would like to see the North-South Freeway take long before other communities expressed interest in the alignment.
“Initially, when this was first put into play, there didn’t seem to be a lot of communities that had a whole lot of (input) when it came to the North-South alignment, whether it was the Apache Junction side or whether it was on Eloy’s side,” he said. “It seems like lately everybody wants to move this North-South alignment around.”
Among the reason for choosing the E4 alignment outlined in the resolution are the potential economic impact the proposed alignment would have on Coolidge.
In addition, the resolution indicates that “specific developments” are looking to take advantage of an alignment that lines up with Vail Road.
One of those developments is the Nikola Motor Company manufacturing plant, which is to be located just off of Vail and Houser roads.
Rencher also noted that Pinal County has already acquired the right of way for the proposed freeway consistent with the E4 alignment.
Other reasons identified by the resolution include the effect the freeway will have on traffic patterns around Coolidge, the proximity to the Union Pacific Railroad and the inability of recent highway and interchange improvements along SR 87 to support the infrastructure needed for the freeway.
“(Former City Manager) Bob Flatley, when he initially talked to me after I was first elected mayor, said, ‘Would you rather have these interchanges, or this or that, or would you rather have a freeway running through Coolidge where Coolidge wanted it?’” Thompson said. “And that’s why we didn’t go after any funding; we went after the North-South alignment. And now all these other jurisdictions want to be able to tell us where we can put this alignment.”