People have been walking and riding bicycles along the Western Canal in the East Valley for years. But work to make that recreational activity safer and more pleasant is just about to start.
Chandler and Tempe soon will begin construction of a concrete multiuse path along the canal’s southern bank. Also installed will be lights, landscaping and rest areas.
When these projects are completed by early next year, the path will provide bicyclists and pedestrians a vehicle-free trail, save for intersections, stretching from Arizona Mills Mall in Tempe to the edge of downtown Gilbert.
During a Tuesday night community meeting at Hendrix Junior High School in Chandler, city officials showed curious residents plans of its project.
For 3-1/2 miles, the canal will be paralleled by a 10-foot-wide concrete path. Illumination at night will be provided by solar-powered lights, placed on 12-foot-tall poles spaced about 80 feet apart.
Construction on the trail will be divided into sections (Loop 101 to Dobson Road; Dobson to Alma School Road; Alma School to Arizona Avenue; and Arizona Avenue to the Union Pacific Railroad tracks), and contractor Tonto Supply will work west to east.
Tonto Supply expects to finish in nine months.
The project’s cost is about $1 million, with federal grants paying for 95 percent of that, deputy public works director Dan Cook said.
Cook admitted this project has been “a long time coming,” but noted the city has had to work within the constraints set forth by water utility Salt River Project and the federal Bureau of Reclamation.
Over the next three years, improvements also will be made to retention basins adjacent to the canal, walls bordering neighborhoods and crosswalks at major streets.
Tempe is preparing to improve six miles of canal bank, from its side of Loop 101 to Interstate 10. Work should wrap up by spring 2010, senior planner Eric Iwersen said.
Tempe’s project is more ambitious than Chandler’s, as it contains specialized street crossings and public art.
Although the canal continues into south Phoenix, Iwersen said that continuing the path would necessitate the construction of an expensive bridge over the freeway.
The cost is estimated at $9 million, with federal grants paying about 60 percent. However, if President-elect Barack Obama decides an economic stimulus program should contain money for infrastructure improvements, the city could receive more federal funding. The multiuse path was included on Tempe’s wish list of projects submitted to the Maricopa Association of Governments for submission to Washington.
Meanwhile, Gilbert is close to finishing the last part of its Western Canal path improvements.
Town spokesman Garin Groff said work is nearly complete on a 2-mile stretch, Cooper Road to the Consolidated Canal near Lindsay Road. The 1-1/2 miles to the west of Cooper already have been spruced up.
“Gilbert’s been really progressive with our trail system so people can get around on bike and foot,” Groff said.
The highlight of the town’s improvements is a park located just west of Gilbert Road, on the northern edge of downtown. The park will feature two plazas and two water features.
The Western Canal’s history dates back nearly a century. According to SRP, the Western Canal Construction Company started digging in 1912 and farmers first received water in February 1913.