Mesa offers funds to jump-start Gateway Freeway - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Mesa offers funds to jump-start Gateway Freeway

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Posted: Thursday, September 16, 2010 4:45 am | Updated: 5:01 pm, Fri Nov 5, 2010.

Mesa will offer its own money to advance construction of the Route 802 freeway by four years, allowing work to begin in 2012.

The new timeline could shave roughly $39 million of the freeway’s cost.

But also, fear was behind fast-tracking the Gateway Freeway.

The city wanted to get the highway under way in case the Legislature tries to cut funding next year, and because the federal government is threatening to freeze highway money in the Valley.

“It would essentially bring all of our road construction to a halt in the area,” Mesa lobbyist Scott Butler said.

The project would build the first segment of the freeway, which will begin north of the Phoenix Mesa Gateway Airport on the Loop 202 Santan Freeway. The first segment includes interchange ramps and one mile of highway heading east.

It was expected to cost $158 million in 2016, but only $119 million in 2012. The recession has dramatically driven down costs, Butler said.

“It’s a great time to be investing in infrastructure,” he said.

However, the city will spend $5.6 million in interest to advance the highway.

Mesa’s efforts to speed up the freeway have been anything but quick.

The city started the push when the economy was humming in 2006. But the Legislature swept $20 million from the freeway in 2009 to respond to a budget crisis. It put $10 million back in later – but Mesa fears lawmakers could go after that money next year if the city doesn’t commit the funds now.

Also, the Environmental Protection Agency could freeze highway projects in January 2011 because of the Valley’s air pollution violations. The hold would forbid changing construction schedules, so construction could go forward if a new timeline is in place by next year.

The freeway is being welcomed by residents of Queen Creek and the San Tan Valley area, Butler said. Also, it will be key to attracting business to an employment center around the airport that’s projected to eventually have 100,000 jobs.

The airport will benefit because the Route 802 will serve as a key road feeding into a new passenger terminal planned on airport’s east side. That is scheduled to open in 2018, but Mayor Scott Smith said surging passenger traffic will likely accelerate the terminal’s construction.

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