By Srianthi Perera

Plans are moving along to build a freeway interchange between Lindsay Road and Loop 202 (Santan Freeway) in Gilbert. It’s expected to open in 2021.

During the third public information meeting held on the topic at the Southeast Regional Library recently, town officials said that a “full diamond” interchange has been recommended as the optimal solution for the traffic congestion in the area.

In addition, the town plans to widen the arterial roads immediately leading from the interchange.

Two projects are being designed to widen two miles of Germann Road from Gilbert Road to Val Vista Drive and a mile of Lindsay Road from Pecos Road to Germann Road. Each stretch is to have six lanes in each direction after the widening.

“We wouldn’t want to improve the infrastructure on the 202 itself and not improve the roadways to accommodate the traffic flow,” said Leah Hubbard Rhineheimer, assistant to the town manager.

The two projects will cost about $33 million and will be funded with a blend of regional transportation funds, bonds and developer contributions, town officials said.

The design is expected to be completed by mid-2018 and the approximately 16-month construction is expected to be completed by mid-2019. The town is due to hold public meetings prior to the projects getting underway.

Meanwhile, the full diamond interchange design was introduced as the one with the lowest cost, the smallest footprint, the least environmental impact and the most familiarity for motorists.

“That’s the type of interchange that you see up and down on the 202,” Town Engineer David Fabiano told the gathering.

The town is working with the Maricopa Association of Governments to identify regional funds for the interchange project, which has a current budgeted cost of about $25-$30 million.

Residents and business owners have until July 14 to address their concerns and provide feedback on the interchange that will change the dynamics of the area. So far, there have been 29 online comments.

“Any feedback that we receive will be looked at, evaluated and folded into the study,” Fabiano said.

The open house held in October drew about 150 people and feedback was balanced, with 56 negative, 58 positive and seven neutral comments. They included a request for bicycle lanes, rubberized asphalt, landscaping and control traffic for residents.

“Even folks that have concerns are asking really good questions,” Rhineheimer said. “It’s been a good dialogue.”

While opinions on the coming interchange are divided somewhat equally, business owners and commuters to nearby offices are pleased overall.

Homeowners, however, are vocal that the new body of traffic that would drive past their housing developments would shatter the neighborhood peace.

Among them is Bret Ryan, a resident of the area since 2009, who attended the recent open house.

“I’m just concerned about the added traffic; I can see it’s going to over double in traffic,” Ryan said. “I grew up in Gilbert; I’ve been here my whole life. They don’t have this interchange up at the (Highway) 60, on the other end, toward Mesa. Yet they’re making the findings that the interchange is needed here. But they have the same amount of houses up there.”

Gilbert is on its way to becoming the third-largest municipality in the Valley, officials said. Its population was 64,000 in 1996 and grew to 247,000 last year.

Side-by-side with the swelling populace is the growth in economic development.

One of the town’s key economic growth corridors, the Central Business District, is located along Loop 202 in the vicinity of Lindsay Road.

“We’re starting to see a high concentration of health care services and treatments as well as a growing diversity of highway signs in technology jobs and industries,” Hubbard said.  The private investment in the corridor is almost $400 million through last year, she noted.

“The continued vibrancy of the Central Business District is key to the long-term sustainability for the Gilbert community,” she said.

Along Loop 202, Rivulon is a master-planned development slated to house 3.6 million square feet of office space and 500,000 square feet of retail. Just south of the highway, the Park Lucero development will comprise 630,000 square feet. Near Val Vista Drive and the Loop 202, healthcare investment has continued and there are three new skilled nursing facilities planned.

All that means is added vehicular traffic on the existing exits.

Both Gilbert Road and Val Vista Drive, Gilbert’s other north-south arteries nearby, currently carry 35,000 to 55,000 vehicles per day. The 2035 traffic projections show dramatic increases in both the east-west and north-south traffic, according to the town.

The daily traffic volumes on Germann Road and Pecos Road are anticipated to nearly double, while the daily volumes on Gilbert Road and Val Vista Drive are anticipated to grow between 30 percent and 60 percent.

Most residents acknowledge and welcome the economic development, but find it hard to come to terms with the personal adjustment.

“We like our bedroom community. We like to ride our bikes up and down. It’s busy as it is,” Ryan said. “For the safety of our kids – they go to South Valley (Junior High) – and almost the majority of them ride their bikes up and down Lindsey Road, I just think it’s going to be a nightmare.”