I-10 Backup

Westbound Interstate 10 traffic was backed up for several miles on April 20.

Last week was a deadly one in the so-called “Safety Corridor” along Interstate 10 between Casa Grande and Chandler. Five people lost their lives in three separate crashes along the stretch of freeway across the Gila River Indian Community.

This week staff from the Governor’s Strategic Planning and Budgeting Office braved the deadly stretch of highway to journey down to Casa Grande from the Capitol to answer questions about Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed budget.

But when Casa Grande Mayor Craig McFarland asked about the potential expansion of the last stretch of I-10 from two lanes to three lanes each way, he got the response that the funds allocated to improve the Gila River Bridge will stimulate the prospect for federal funding to widen the rest of the interstate.

That’s it.

No update on the study and negotiations with the tribe. No pledge for state funds to make the widening a reality. No discussion about a timetable to get it done.

I guess the plan for widening the highway is to have hope.

Hope that the tribe will allocate the right of way on its land. Hope that the federal government will come through with funding.

In the meantime, people will continue to die.

Now, there is no evidence that last week’s fatal accidents wouldn’t have happened if the freeway were three lanes instead of two. Two of the crashes were single-car rollovers and the third was caused by a wrong-way driver, who happened to be a 72-year-old man from Casa Grande.

However, the fact that they all happened eastbound near Riggs Road where the interstate first contracts can’t be overlooked.

The stretch of freeway across the GRIC has an hour-glass effect of narrowing traffic down at each end to squeeze it through a smaller opening. But the sands of time are not with us, because the traffic continues to increase each year. And even a one-vehicle rollover results in a freeway closure that stalls traffic even more, causing the potential for more accidents.

As for the wrong-way driver, a third lane could make a difference. Studies show that wrong-way driver collisions almost always occur in the outside lane, because the wrong-way driver, whether under the influence or not, usually thinks they are driving in the right lane. A driver heading in the correct direction may drive in the second lane to avoid slower traffic. If there is a middle lane in a three-lane freeway, they may choose that instead of the outside lane, or fast lane, in two lanes.

Thus, in the middle you will go safest.

The issue is not whether or not I-10 will be widened, but when.

Because of the current deadly trend, the when should be the highest priority.

The state needs to stop worrying about Interstate 17 north of Phoenix, where traffic issues are mostly a weekend concern, and planning for new freeways that are decades down the line.

I-10 between Casa Grande and Chandler needs to be widened now.

It is ironic that the state is considering a gas tax increase to pay for highway improvements at the same time an electric car manufacturing plant is being built in Casa Grande.

Granted the proposal would also include new taxes on electric cars, but it still shows an antiquated view to funding road improvements.

Waiting is not an option. We’re doing enough of that when stuck in traffic jams caused by crashes.

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You can contact Andy Howell at ahowell@pinalcentral.com.

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