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Road-safety projects in Pinal qualify for $13M in federal funds
 mcowling  / 

FLORENCE — Several traffic safety needs identified in the new Pinal County Strategic Transportation Safety Plan have already qualified for $13 million in federal funding, the Pinal County Board of Supervisors was told Wednesday.

These include improvements on Hunt Highway between Bella Vista and Gary roads, and on Gantzel Road between Combs and Ocotillo roads in San Tan Valley. Improvements will include flashing yellow areas, medians and sidewalks, and median modifications for improved sight distance.

Seventy-three miles of center- and edge-line rumble strips will be installed on 15 roads countywide, including Arizona Farms Road north of Florence.

A pedestrian hybrid beacon is to be installed on Kings Ranch Road at Sunrise Sky Drive in Gold Canyon. Also called a HAWK beacon, this is a traffic signal that stays dark until a pedestrian pushes a button to slow and stop traffic so he or she may cross. The location was the site of a fatal pedestrian accident.

In the 10-year period from 2008 to 2017, there were 530 fatal crashes on Pinal County streets, roads and highways, causing a total of 612 deaths, Mike Blankenship with Greenlight Traffic Engineering told the supervisors. In all, there were 36,058 accidents. The plan’s vision is for zero deaths, and the goal is to achieve a “consistent and sustainable annual reduction in traffic deaths on public roads within Pinal County,” Blankenship said.

Pinal County Senior Transportation Planner Kathy Borquez said she’d like to see the study updated in five years, and the crash data updated annually.

The study includes 585 comments from citizens who highlighted hazardous areas on online maps. Most of these issues, 77%, were driver concerns, while 12% were pedestrian hazards and 11% were bicycle-related hazards.

The supervisors will be asked for their formal approval of the plan on Dec. 4, then more projects can be scheduled over the next few years. These include:

  • a pedestrian hybrid beacon at Cottonwood Lane and Kadota Avenue in Casa Grande
  • left-turn lanes at State Route 87 and Kleck Road, and right- and left-turn lanes from state highways onto Kenworthy and Christensen roads in the Coolidge area
  • completing sidewalks on Gantzel Road between Bella Vista Road and Rebecca Lane in San Tan Valley
  • stop signs surrounded by LED lights at 13 intersections countywide, including in the Casa Grande, Coolidge and Eloy areas and the Gila River Indian Community
  • streetlights on Apache Trail and Superstition Boulevard, and wider shoulders and rumble strips on Ironwood Drive, all in Apache Junction
  • rumble strips, markings and other improvements between Coolidge and Eloy

Supervisor Todd House, R-Apache Junction, said it’s unfortunate that a needed safety improvement often doesn’t receive funding until someone is killed. He further noted if a driver isn’t wearing his seat belt in a fatal accident, “your insurance doesn’t have to cover you.”

Kevin Costello, deputy county attorney, said it’s not the county’s place to advise what an insurance policy may or may not cover, but the county can publicize the importance of wearing seat belts.

After “lane departure” and “speeding,” the third-highest factor in accidents with serious injuries or fatalities was a lack of “occupant protection” such as seat belts, the study found.

Greenlight Traffic Engineering prepared the plan in cooperation with Sun Corridor Metropolitan Planning Organization, Central Arizona Governments, Maricopa Association of Government and Pinal County. For more information, visit scmpo.org. Point to “Studies & Plans” in the upper-right corner and select “Pinal County Strategic Transportation Safety Plan.”

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Art programs keep CG area elderly feeling young
 mstaude  / 

CASA GRANDE -- For Barbara Behrent, 70, of Maricopa, art is like therapy.

With a marker-style paint brush in one hand and a small gourd in the other, Behrent was one of about 10 elderly people who recently spent an afternoon creating colorful maracas as part of a program that aims to help seniors cope with aging by exploring their artistic side.

“It just feels wonderful doing something creative,” Behrent said.

For aging seniors, art can have a profound impact on their quality of life, said Maria Barnett, day club director at Caliche Senior Living in Casa Grande.

“I’ve seen elderly people open up, laugh and tell stories while they’re sitting around the table doing art projects,” Barnett said. “The combination of movement and creativity helps them relax and be more social.”

Art is a big part of the day club at Caliche, which provides a place for people age 55 and older to spend the day, socialize, exercise, relax and have fun.

Through the day club, the elderly stay involved and active in projects that provide mental and social stimulation, Barnett said.

“For some elderly, they run the risk of sitting at home watching TV, which can lead to loneliness and depression,” she said. “They come here and they’re engaged in activities and talking. Most of them just want to be doing activities with other people.”

Art projects at Caliche can range from easy food-based holiday crafts to working with clay or making birdhouses.

Lisa Swanson of ArtMobile, a nonprofit organization that provides art services for various groups, including the elderly, often visits Caliche and other senior facilities. Earlier this week, she was at Caliche leading an activity in which plain gourds were transformed into musical maracas.

She said the benefits of art for the elderly extend far beyond creating a cute craft item.

“Art programs are especially good for the elderly because creating art engages the part of the brain that’s needed to focus,” she said. “Art gets the creativity flowing and makes socialization a little easier.”

A recent study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a branch of the National Institutes of Health, found that engaging in visual art programs, as well as dance, writing, theater or music, enhances healthy aging and has positive impacts on quality of life.

The study found that older adults who received art lessons from a professional art teacher had increased social engagement, sense of empowerment and psychological health.

Art can also be relaxing for the elderly, and that can lead to remembering stories and events, Swanson said.

“It’s especially great for people with Alzheimer’s or dementia, because when they’re working on art projects, they’re relaxed and sometimes, the memories start flowing back,” Swanson said. “For non-verbal elderly people, art can become a form of communication.”

As people age and their health begins to decline, they can run the risk of becoming isolated, Swanson said. Art gives them an easy, low-stress activity to participate in.

“Socialization is huge for aging adults,” Swanson said. “Having a group art activity combats isolation and makes them feel better.”

As well as Caliche, Swanson often leads art programs for the elderly at Oasis Pavilion, Seeds of Hope, the Dorothy Powell Senior Center and other facilities.

On Tuesday, she’ll offer a creative art activity at a Memory Cafe event hosted by the Pinal-Gila Council for Senior Citizens, 8969 W. McCartney Road. The cafe begins at 10 and the art activity is from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.

Swanson is a 2018 graduate of the Arizona Arts Commission’s Creative Aging Teaching Artist Institute. She is a ceramic artist and art teacher with a bachelor’s degree in fine art and a master’s degree in arts and medicine.

When she’s leading a program, like maraca-making at Caliche, she tells participants not to worry about creating great art.

“The projects don’t have to be perfect,” she said. “What’s important is that they use the project as a way of expressing themselves.”

Whether they’re engaged in art, doing a puzzle or participating in chair-based Zumba, Barnett said that all programs at the Caliche Senior Living day club provide meaningful social interaction that can improve mental and physical health for the elderly.

“These activities enhance independence for the elderly,” she said. “By being active and involved during the day, they sleep better at night. They stay healthier and that helps them live at home longer.”

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Local task force takes on groundwater supply in Pinal County

CASA GRANDE — A task force with members from 29 Pinal County entities will take up the groundwater supply torch from Arizona Rep. David Cook’s Ad Hoc Committee on Groundwater Supply in Pinal County.

The task force was formally announced at a meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Wednesday. Cook, R-Globe, proposed in October creating a task force chaired by Pinal County Supervisor Steve Miller, R-Casa Grande, with William Garfield from Arizona Water Company and Jake Lenderking from Global Water Resources as vice chairs.

The groundwater supply committee has been investigating the situation in Pinal County since late September. The Arizona Department of Water Resources released a report in October stating that the county did not have enough groundwater to supply its existing and future demands for the next 100 years. At the end of those 100 years, the county’s water supply will fall more than 8 million acre-feet short of the estimated 80 million acre-feet demand projected by the department, according to its estimates.

Miller, Garfield and Lenderking sent Cook a letter listing 29 possible members of the task force. The list includes representatives from nearly every major city in the county, three local utilities, six agricultural interest groups, six development interest groups, four local organizations, the Arizona Department of Water Resources and two Indian communities.

Rep. Diego Rodriguez, D-Phoenix, asked how Miller, Garfield and Lenderking selected the members of the task force.

Miller responded that the trio tried to come up with a list of everyone who might be affected by the problem including developers, farmers, cities, water companies and the public.

Miller said the list was just a starting point and the task force was open to adding more organizations or individuals.

“We want to be as inclusive as possible,” he said. “If there’s a group that you think we’re missing, we want to know.”

ADWR Director Thomas Buschatzke suggested adding a representative from the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District to the task force.

Rep. Rosanna Gabaldón, D-Sahuarita, suggested including members from the state’s universities. The University of Arizona and Arizona State University both have experts who could provide information about studies and management practices.

Cook suggested asking the Western Growers and other farming and ranching groups, such as dairies and the Arizona Cattle Feeders Association, to join.

Miller said the task force had already considered inviting the universities to present information and would certainly include the CAGRD and the Western Growers.

Rodriguez said he hoped the task force would consider adding some consumer protection and conservation groups.

Garfield said the task force was not “going to turn a blind eye to someone outside (the county) who can bring info in.”

Buschatzke suggested bringing in someone from the Arizona Corporation Commission. The ACC regulates the business side and rate schedules of water companies in the state and could help with the review of possible changes to state laws or regulations.

The letter also details a plan and timeline as to how the group will tackle the problem of the county’s finite groundwater resources. The task force plans to meet every two weeks and hopes to have a short list of possible solutions that could be implemented immediately within the next six months and a list of more complex, long-term solutions in the fall of 2020.

“This is a very aggressive schedule,” Gabaldón said. “Are you sure you can live up to this?”

Lenderking said while the schedule is aggressive, many of the organizations on the list had been talking about Pinal County’s diminishing supply of groundwater and possible solutions to the problem for many years.

“There’s a lot of knowledge and solutions floating around out there,” he said. “This is one way to put it all on the table.”

The task force would finally gather all of these organizations and their possible solutions in one location to hopefully come up with a solution or series of solutions to the problem, Lenderking said.

Rodriguez asked what the task force would do if it couldn’t come up with a consensus on possible solutions.

Lenderking said there may be some solutions that some members of the task force may not like, but he was confident that the task force could come up with a list of solutions that all members of the group could work with.

“I’m actually looking forward to seeing what you come up with,” said Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott. He said he has been a member of numerous committees in the Legislature that fade into obscurity after interest in whatever problem the committee was created to address diminishes.

The groundwater supply problem in Pinal County, however, is a problem that needs a real solution, Campbell said. It isn’t an issue that people are likely to lose interest in and he is excited to see the solutions the group comes up with.

Gabaldón agreed. She said she hopes the solutions that the task force finds can be expanded to include the whole state.

“I don’t envy you,” Campbell said. “You’ve got to come up with a real solution for a situation where you can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip.”