It’s just before 5 p.m. on Monday, April 4. Maricopa commuters are making their way home from another long workday. About halfway between the Phoenix metropolis and the city of Maricopa, traffic on State Route 347 comes to a standstill. Seemingly as one, Maricopa commuters open their phones and log onto Facebook — specifically, the Maricopa Traffic Rants group.
5:00 p.m., HW* posts: Well hell! 347 & Riggs!
Immediately after HW posts with the above photo, the comments start rolling in.
5:04 p.m., SON: Never surprise’s me what you see on 347!!!
5:05 p.m., RN: How…
5:05 p.m., MH: I just went through there like 30 mins ago… prayers for who’s involved.
5:06 p.m., JD: I just passed it [shocked emoji]
5:07 p.m., SMG: Is this north or south bound?
5:08 p.m., Two people are tagged in the comments.
5:15 p.m., BJ: I made it through right in time. I thought it was nice for a Monday. But someone HAD to screw it up eh? Glad I got home before all that
Over the next few hours, the comments continue — a mixture of questions related to current traffic conditions, reactions to seeing the accident firsthand and, overwhelmingly, complaints: both over other drivers’ abysmal driving skills and SR 347 itself.
“That’s the whole reason, to give people a place to rant,” said Tina Morrison, one of the creators of the Maricopa Traffic Rants group. “It's a great way for people to get together and vent.”
The group was founded in 2015 by Morrison, her fiance Ray Stotlar and their friend Vinny Cert as a way to move the ranting and meme-posting off of their other Maricopa Traffic Delays Facebook group. Though the delays group is the original, Maricopa Traffic Rants quickly took off with increasing popularity. It now has just over 7,000 members and averages about 149 posts a month.
“The way that we have run the page, we don't expect everybody to be in their Sunday suit, you know? Put your cowgirl boots on and if you're going to drop the F bomb, it's fine because we're all adults,” Morrison said. Online, her Facebook profile picture showcases her fire engine red hair as she poses for a selfie with big black shades on. In person, she is indeed frequently wearing a pair of pointed cowgirl boots.
The group has a steady stream of daily posts, mainly people ranting about other drivers in and around Maricopa, which only has one way in and out to the north: SR 347.
SR 347 has long been a bone of contention among the residents of Maricopa, a bedroom community that heavily relies on neighboring cities like Phoenix for work. It’s a four-lane divided highway that spans 28 miles of dusty, orange desert and is regularly congested due to accidents and an onslaught of restless commuters.
If SR 347 is closed due to an accident, travelers must go 28 miles southeast before turning around and taking Interstate 10 back up to the northwest to enter Phoenix. It’s a detour that adds another half hour and doubles the mileage to the journey.
Around 40,000 cars travel the road every day. Among them are members of the Maricopa Traffic Rants group. The comments continue.
5:47 p.m., MWB: Crazy ass drivers
6:09 p.m., AC: Dummies as usual this is every week …
6:49 p.m., CC: I’ve witnessed one too many crackheads falling asleep while driving the 347 around rush hour
In a way, talking trash is exactly what this group was designed to do. But while posts and comments in the group can get pretty volatile, Morrison and the other admins have strict guidelines for what is, and isn’t, allowed in the group.
“We don't allow racial slurs and disrespect based on race, color, religion, creed, whatever — we try to maintain that,” Morrison said. “We try to definitely boot that when people make it about hate. No hate speech, regardless of what it is.”
In the group’s About section, these rules are spelled out for the members to read. It comes with a dire warning that if anyone drives “like a jerk” they should expect to end up on the wall of shame with pictures of them and their vehicle. “You have no reasonable expectation of privacy or of anonymity if you are driving like a jerk, so deal with the shame and don’t be ‘that guy’!”
Another unorthodox aspect of the group’s time-honored customs and traditions is the rule about reporting posts. If a member reports a post for being “offensive” to the group’s moderators, the rules clearly state the reporting party will be “publicly humiliated and ridiculed.”
“We just kick the tattletales off the page,” Morrison said. “If you’re a whiner, you’re a tattletale, just get off the page. … Freedom of speech right? It’s about allowing people to be real.
“Sometimes we'll get on there and talk about ya before we boot ya, and then boot ya after ya get to see it all,” Morrison added, with a laugh.
Members of the group represent all parts of Maricopa, from the rural outskirts to the bustling center, and from citizens to government officials. Former Vice Mayor Henry Wade is one of two City Council members in the group. He spoke about the group while driving on SR 347, connected to Bluetooth.
“It does help to at least know what's going on in front of me as I'm driving home on 347,” he said. “It also helps in the conversation that I have with constituents … to hear what people are saying, to kind of get some insight into what are the concerns of other folks and kind of compare them to what I'm experiencing.”
In addition to the more urgent posts in the group, there have been some funny, inside jokes that have happened over the years. For instance, anyone who has spent time in the group has seen at least one post about the infamous gold minivan incident of 2015. The minivan, double parked at the local Walmart, was the talk of the town for several weeks as people went to take selfies with “goldie.”
Other drivers are known by name in the online community, and over the years they’ve become familiar characters to group members. But Morrison says, it’s all in good fun.
When she sees these drivers in person, “you just smile and nod.”
That’s the nature of a small city like Maricopa — people in the group often meet each other in real life.
“Sometimes people fight, sometimes they work it out, and sometimes they meet at bars and hang out and get along,” Morrison said.
On a more serious note, she’s seen stories shared in the group of shattered car windows and guns pulled on people by other angry drivers.
Wade is familiar with these feelings, both as a council member and as a citizen driving these roads himself.
“I too have not planned properly, I too have gotten angry and cussed, but you know, I’ll be honest with you, I don't want people shooting at me. People carry guns,” Wade said.
Morrison said she hopes the group is an outlet for drivers to express their anger without turning to road rage.
After witnessing the ebb and flow of this community group for seven years now, Morrison is left with a word of advice for Maricopa drivers.
“Don't be aggressive all the time,” she said. “If somebody's got their blinker on and trying to come over, don't speed up, let them over. Don't be the asshole — those are the ones that get on our page.”
The comments under the April 4 accident speak to drivers’ frustrations over the state route, and specifically the intersection of Riggs Road and SR 347.
7:04 p.m., JJP: Build a over pass there already, tired of this
11:05 p.m., TO: Riggs road needs to be blessed. That intersection is the worst and fatal part of the 347.
April 5, 11 a.m., TB: The overpass won't fix the problem...it's the idiots who want to beat the light and not paying attention that is causing the problem...I've cleared MANY wrecks from that intersection...it's INATTENTIVE people causing the issue!
Talks of an overpass at this notoriously dangerous intersection have been underway for years as part of a larger push to improve road conditions on SR 347, but it has been a slow and arduous slog by public officials to overcome the hurdles required to build it.
Firstly, SR 347 runs through multiple jurisdictions including Native American tribal nations, the Gila River Indian Community and Ak-Chin Indian Community, the city of Maricopa and state-owned desert land. The highway’s intersection with Riggs Road — awarded the dubious honor by one radio station as the longest red light in the Phoenix metro area — is on the Gila River Indian Community. These parties must all collaborate and agree on the terms of this build in order for it to happen.
Secondly, the entire project would cost an estimated $350 million to fund, a steep price for any one entity to handle. Last year, then-District 11 Rep. Bret Roberts sponsored House Bill 2068, which provided $35 million for an overpass at Riggs Road and 347.
“We have had nine deaths in the past two years at this particular intersection. We just had another accident there last week,” Roberts said in a City Council meeting on March 2, 2021. “The overpass is probably the most problematic portion of the 347 widening project.”
The federal infrastructure bill passed in late 2021 could provide additional funds for the widening/overpass. As of now, ADOT has pledged $30 million in addition to the $35 million given by the state Legislature while an additional $90 million comes from Propositions 400 and 500.
In March, however, the city of Maricopa was dealt a blow when the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that a voter-approved transportation excise tax was invalid. This tax has been hotly contested since it was passed in 2017. The ruling puts the tens of millions of dollars already collected by the tax at risk. The funds could be redistributed back out to retailers, as opposed to improving roads and Pinal County infrastructure as it was intended to do.
‘[We have an opportunity] to come back at them, to readdress the community,” Wade said. Moving forward, the city will continue to try to appease the courts in hopes of retaining the tax funds.
In the years since the city began its fight to improve 347, Maricopa Traffic Rants has become a place of solace for a community that is routinely dependent on roadways ill-adapted for their needs.
Though a bit unorthodox, the group provides an outlet for a frustrated rural community, a man-made oasis surrounded by desert on all sides, with only one way out to the north.
“I don't care where you are — supermarket, gas station, washing your car — 347 kind of controls the airways in a lot of ways,” Wade said. “You can't meet and talk to somebody anywhere without the 347 at least being mentioned in your conversations. It's just part of our ethos, part of our being here in Pinal County, and in Maricopa.”
Bart Graves, public information officer for the Arizona Department of Public Safety, provided closure on the April 4 incident.
“On April 4th at 4:52 p.m., a passenger vehicle heading southbound ran a red light at [Riggs Road] and collided with a box truck. One person was transported to a local hospital with serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
“All subjects involved were treated and released.”
*members of this private community group are referred to by their initials to protect their privacy.