According to the Pima Association of Governments, the intersection of 22nd Street and Kino Parkway--with waits averaging 32.5 seconds--today boasts the eighth-longest delay of any intersection in town. Almost 75,000 vehicles pass through the crossroads daily, and sometimes, traffic backs up for blocks.
To reduce this problem, the city's proposed five-year Capital Improvement Program contains $10 million to install a new Kino overpass. This traffic structure would allow motorists on the parkway to literally drive over 22nd Street.
"We looked at a 1980 concept from the Environment Impact Statement for Kino," says Jim Glock, Tucson's director of transportation. "Much of the new project will be at grade level, except where Kino goes over 22nd Street."
Labeled a "Folded Cloverleaf Interchange" on an archival diagram of the idea supplied by Glock, the overpass would eliminate existing intersection traffic tie-ups. But to accomplish that goal, other extensive street modifications would have to be made in the vicinity.
To accommodate Kino traffic turning east or west, the plan calls for a large and long U-shaped roadway to be built on the south side of 22nd Street. This would permit southbound motorists on Kino to reach 22nd Street at Highland Avenue and 22nd Street traffic to turn south on Kino.
A more compact pair of access roads would be needed to provide entrance and exit from 22nd Street to nearby Cherrybell Stravenue, and then onto northbound Kino. The plan also recommends the possibility of more typical on/off ramps to link the overpass with 22nd Street.
In addition to carrying cars on Kino quickly over 22nd Street, the proposed project would benefit east-west traffic flow. "Since there will no longer be traffic signals at 22nd and Kino," Glock says, "there will be more green time on 22nd Street. That should reduce its congestion."
Glock says preliminary work on refining the 1980 design proposal could begin this summer. He hopes to have a more detailed concept plan by next year.
One unknown at this point is whether the potential overpass will have to be approved at an election before being implemented. The Neighborhood Protection Amendment, adopted by city voters almost 20 years ago, requires limited-access roadways in Tucson to gain ballot approval before they can be built.
"If the project meets the requirements of the amendment," Glock says, "it will go to the voters. We will have a recommendation if it does or does not (have to) after we flesh out the design concept. Then the issue will go to the mayor and council."
At least one activist feels voters should decide on the project.
"There's no question about it," says former state legislator John Kromko about the proposed overpass being subject to the provisions of the Neighborhood Protection Amendment. Kromko spearheaded the drive to have the amendment adopted and thinks the issue should be voted on, but isn't certain the City Council will agree.
"It seems like since the current council took office," Kromko says, "the city staff has been at war with the people. In this case, why not err on the side of a vote and just put it on the ballot? But the council and the staff constantly seem like they are trying to sneak things by people."
Assuming it is approved by the City Council on March 8 as part of the Capital Improvement Program, the Kino-22nd Street project is estimated to cost $10 million and scheduled to be constructed in 2008 and 2009. While it could take as long as 18 months to complete, Glock thinks it could be finished faster than that.
This isn't the first attempt to do something about traffic problems near the intersection. Two decades ago, the Arizona Department of Transportation installed Murphy's Overpass at a cost of $8 million. It allows Kino Parkway traffic to avoid the railroad tracks diagonally cutting through the area--tracks that often caused long, frustrating delays. Several years later, the state connected this bridge to the new Aviation Parkway, which runs underneath it.
Still not satisfied with local traffic movement, the City Council wanted to build a grade-separated interchange at the 22nd Street and Kino intersection in 2002. They included $10 million as part of the transportation package overwhelmingly defeated in Tucson's ill-fated sales tax increase election.
Glock says the 1980 design of the Kino-22nd Street interchange proposes a smaller, less-expensive overpass structure than that put before the voters three years ago. This old/new model, he believes, can be finished for the $10 million.
If built, the overpass would be paid for with 1997 Pima County bond funds, even though this project was not presented to the voters back then. Despite that, it was part of a recent agreement between the City Council and the Pima County Board of Supervisors to get more bond money spent inside the city limits.
If $10 million isn't sufficient to pay the total construction price, Glock indicates the city government will have to come up with the balance of the money from other sources. Given the cash-strapped nature of municipal finances, that may be a bigger challenge than fixing the traffic problems at 22nd Street and Kino Parkway.