Officials begin laying groundwork for Fern Valley interchange

PHOENIX — More than a year ahead of the projected start of a $73 million rebuild of the Fern Valley interchange, state transportation officials are purchasing rights-of-way and laying out plans to minimize community impact during construction.

Transportation officials hope to have a contractor in place by April 2013, with construction starting by September 2013.

City and state transportation officials met this week to give the City Council a project update and discuss staging of traffic and business access during the two-year construction phase.

Both ODOT spokesman Gary Leaming and Mayor Carlos DeBritto voiced concerns about helping local businesses survive construction.

"We're going to work very hard to accommodate business access during construction, but the fact of the matter is we're not going to be able to build this without some kind of change in habit or in people's daily routine, at least in the short term," Leaming said.

While community members don't look forward to construction, DeBritto said, the new interchange ultimately will ease traffic congestion and open up the east side of Interstate 5 for development.

"I think the city is very pleased with what ODOT has come up with as far as how they're planning to handle the whole process," said the mayor.

"It's all come a long way, certainly, from a few years ago. There were several issues and probably a lot of miscommunication that went on, so I'm confident they're taking steps to make sure that doesn't happen anymore."

Initially slated to break ground in 2009, the project was delayed after public outcry over the footprint of the interchange and impact from a proposed widening of Highway 99.

A design change approved last year has eased many concerns and is well-suited to the dynamics of the area, said Leaming.

"I think the diverging diamond design provides a great amount of capacity and safety in that tight commercial area," Leaming said. "Plus, the other advantage of that interchange design is we can thread the needle, as it were, between Home Depot and Peterbuilt, as well as The Shoppes at Exit 24 and Petro."

Goofy's Furniture owner Terry Rombach, a former council member, said he still has concerns about the impact the project would have on local businesses, especially with proposed changes to Highway 99.

"I know there's not much to say about whether they do this or not because they're ODOT, so they're going to do it," he said. "I just feel that they should have waited a few years until the economy recovers to do this building, because all the nonessential businesses that are just hanging on are probably not going to survive the construction."

ODOT project leader Dick Leever said ODOT would set up a hotline to provide information and help address any concerns that arise.

"There's no doubt that Highway 99 will probably be the biggest problem area, and an area we'll have to do under traffic. It's going to be important that the City Council and our people have open communication so that when there are issues we can address those as quickly as possible," Leever said.

"It's a two-way street. That's what people are going to have to realize. I think there's been a real change in attitude about the project from a few years before, but there's certainly still a lot of work yet to come."

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