A lonely expanse of creosote will become a frenzy of construction activity on Monday as crews will start building a new freeway that’s expected to spur development in east Mesa.
The state Route 24 Freeway is considered a major catalyst despite its puny size. It will begin as a mile-long segment with just two lanes in each direction.
But for the area east of the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, the freeway will finally make the area easily accessible.
“This used to be referred to as the edge of the world, because it was,” Mesa Mayor Scott Smith said. “It is no longer that.”
The Gateway Freeway will begin at the Loop 202 Santan Freeway, branching to the east just north of the Gateway airport. It will connect with Ellsworth Road when it opens in the fall of 2013.
Mesa was so eager to get the freeway started that it loaned the Arizona Department of Transportation funds to speed up construction by four years.
The area has been too remote to attract much development, Smith said. He expects the improved access will lure new industrial users, offices and other commercial development.
“It’s something that people won’t fully appreciate until they see it happen,” Smith said.
The freeway will cost $71.4 million, about $115 less than original estimates. ADOT estimates the lower cost resulted from the advanced construction timeline and because the post-recession economic climate has resulted in lower bids. The freeway will be built by the Utah-based Ralph L. Wadsworth Construction Company.
Route 24 is projected to carry 33,000 vehicles a day in 2019.
The Gateway Freeway will eventually head due east once it crosses Ellsworth, but no timeline has been identified. The freeway’s path through Pinal County also is under study, but it’s anticipated Route 24 will become a link to Pinal County and even Tucson, Mesa Vice Mayor Scott Somers said.
Even the initial mile of freeway will have a big impact in making the Gateway area an aerotropolis that supports 100,000 jobs, Somers said.
“This isn’t just about building a freeway and providing another opportunity for this car traffic to move in and out,” he said. “It is really about creating jobs, the opportunity to move products and services and to connect with our region and the global economy.”
Smith said the freeway has the potential to do what the Loop 202 did for the Gateway airport. That freeway was essential to attracting Allegiant, an airline scheduled to serve more than 1 million passengers this year from Gateway. Route 24 will help the airline grow, as the new freeway is essential to opening a planned terminal on the airport’s east side.
Smith said the Gateway Freeway will boost development at Eastmark, a master-planned community scheduled to open next year at the former General Motors Proving Grounds. It will eventually serve the Gaylord, a 1,500-room resort first proposed in 2008. Gaylord is waiting for the business travel market to recover before building, but Smith said something like a freeway can only make the area more attractive.
“When you invest in infrastructure, you create economic opportunity,” he said.
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