Just because drivers are having to ease up on their gas pedal through road construction on Hunt Highway doesn’t mean they also can lighten up on paying attention to the rules of the road.
The Pinal County Sheriff ’s Office intends to have an increased presence in the construction zone during all phases of a project to widen Hunt Highway through San Tan Valley, Sgt. Hunter Rankin of the PCSO Patrol Support Division Traffic/Motor Unit said last week in an e-mailed response to questions.
Phase one of the Hunt Highway construction project began Nov. 12. The 10 month project is widening the roadway from Empire Boulevard Thompson Road from two to four lanes and adding a median turn lane, according to the Pinal County website: www.pinalcountyaz.gov/Departments/ PublicWorks/Pages/Home.aspx.
The speed limit in the construction zone is 25 mph, Joe Pyritz, interim communications director for the county, said during a phone interview last week.
The speed limit once the project is completed will be 45 mph, he said.
Work hours are 6 a.m. to about 2 p.m. or 3 p.m., Mr. Pyritz said. “ We are trying to get out of there by the evening rush hours but we also want to make sure the project is getting done,” Mr. Pyritz said. “ We are encouraging people to find an alternate route, such as Ironwood (Drive).”
PCSO utilizes deputies from its patrol region and traffic unit to patrol the construction zone, Sgt. Rankin said.
Their primary focus is on speed and aggressive driving violations as well as distracted driving, he said.
The extra patrol is funded by a $25,000 grant from the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety that provides overtime to deputies so they can enforce the driving violations, Sgt. Rankin said.
PCSO has a zero-tolerance policy on this matter and all drivers stopped for traffic violations in these construction zones will be issued a citation, the sergeant said.
“Drivers are asked to obey the speed limit, not to engage in activities that will distract their driving — texting, eating, putting on makeup, etc. — and not to drive in an aggressive manner in any of these construction zones,” Sgt. Rankin said. “Drivers should make every effort to take an alternate route around the construction zones during these times.
“Drivers should be aware that PCSO takes the safety of the construction workers performing their duties on our roadways very seriously,” he continued. “ These personnel are working in close proximity to the roadway and it would only take a split second for a tragedy to occur from a speeding, aggressive or distracted driver.”
According to data gathered by the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration and provided to the Queen Creek/San Tan Valley Independent by Sgt. Rankin, sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent at 55 mph of driving the entire length of a football field blind.
County officials began talking about widening Hunt Highway in the fall of 2007 and have been working on design plans and acquiring funding for the project since then, Mr. Pyritz said.
“ We had a housing boom from 2004 to 2008 in San Tan Valley that a lot of people didn’t see coming,” Mr. Pyritz said. “It really expedited the need to update Hunt Highway.”
The $5.8 million price tag is being paid for by Federal Construction Funding through the Central Arizona Association of Governments and Arizona Department of Transportation; construction is being administered by ADOT, Mr. Pyritz said.
County Supervisor Cheryl Chase is happy the construction is under way.
“ The expansion of Hunt Highway has been a top goal of mine since I took office earlier this year,” she said in an e-mailed response to questions two weeks ago. “I am excited to see the first phase begin. This shows that we are working hard to make this highly travelled road safer and more convenient. Our Pinal County Public Works Department is working hard to make sure the funding is in place so we can continue with future phases of this expansion.”