A soon-to-open stretch of highway in Mesa is expected to alleviate potential driving problems and continue the expansion of a growing region in the city.
Once it’s opened in May, the mile-long segment of State Route 24 will connect the Loop 202 Santan Freeway and Ellsworth Road, which is located near the Eastmark Development and Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. Construction on the project began in 2012, although Mesa Gateway Senior Project Manager Scot Rigby said the plan has been in the works for about a decade.
Although the route connects Ellsworth and the Loop 202, the long-term goal is to push State Route 24 well beyond those boundaries. According to the Arizona Department of Transportation, the highway will connect the southeast section of Maricopa County to the northeast portion of Pinal County, including Queen Creek. Progress on the extension beyond Mesa is halted, however, until Pinal County completes its North-South Corridor Study and a source of funding for the rest of the project is found.
Rigby said the now-open section of State Route 24 was paid for by the city of Mesa, which he said fronted the money to ADOT to expedite the project. He said the decision to do so helped cut the total cost from an estimated $200 million, to between $110 and $120 million.
It’s something of a symbolic gesture, as Rigby said Mesa’s willingness to move forward reflects a sense of reliability among potential investors.
“Now we put the plan together and within 10 years we built the project,” he said.
It’s an indicator that should prove to be highly beneficial down the line as that region of Mesa continues to grow. Gateway already hosts Eastmark, the airport, Arizona State University’s Polytechnic and a slew of other businesses. Additional projects such as the Apple facility and a new Grand Canyon University campus are on the way, but the direct access to the 202 offers an additional incentive to potential investors.
Also mentioned by Rigby was the city’s ability to prepare for the anticipated growth in the coming years. Getting this portion of the route done now offers one fewer construction headache for drivers to deal with — as well as a smoother commute to work — and gets the city ahead of the game in terms of infrastructure improvement.
The route doesn’t merely account for potential residential development. The project Rigby mentioned first and strongly in terms of direct effect was Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. A study by Arizona State University indicated the airport brought in $1.3 billion in revenue during the 2012-13 fiscal year and had 1.45 million passengers fly through that year, and both figures represented significant gains during a three-year span.
A couple of airlines — Spirit and Frontier — stopped sending flights to and from the airport in 2013, although Rigby said the expectation is for the airport to keep growing and add another terminal that would connect with State Route 24.
“It’s going to be a great front door for the airport,” he said.
By Eric Mungenast, Tribune