The Trouble With Trucks

Marana Estates residents say an abundance of big rigs on their streets is jeopardizing their safety

Poor economy aside, philanthropists aren't usually looking to fork over loads of money to help a small enclave of homes fix a traffic issue.

Such is the reality that residents in Marana Estates find themselves in as they watch 18-wheel tractor-trailers rumble along their small streets toward a repair shop nestled on the edge of their neighborhood.

"Our streets really don't handle those trucks so well," said Alisha Meza, who has lived in the two-street community just east of Interstate 10 in northern Marana since 1986.

Ray's Diesel, a repair shop that has existed within the community since 2006, can only be accessed by driving through the neighborhood. Meza and other residents say the number of big rigs visiting Ray's has increased significantly of late, making them fear for the safety of children who play outside.

"My grandkids are three houses down the street from where the trucks go through," Meza said.

A traffic study conducted by Town of Marana officials in June, though, found no evidence of increased truck traffic or higher-than-normal speeds on the 25 mph roads, prompting town officials to turn down residents' request for a bypass road for the businesses south and east of the neighborhood.

"The numbers just didn't bear anything out," Marana Mayor Ed Honea said. "Semis are not racecars. You'd have a hard time getting up to 20 mph before you got out" of the neighborhood.

The proposed bypass road would stem from Adonis Road—which runs parallel to I-10 and is the only way for residents to get to Marana Estates—and go behind Ray's and other businesses, including a drilling company and a self-storage facility.

Ray's Diesel owner Ramon Vejar said he'd have no problem using such a road, and he'd be willing to forfeit his entrance within the Marana Estates neighborhood.

"As soon as they build the street, I can use that," Vejar said. "If they open up another road so I can get into my business from behind, that's OK with me."

The project is more complicated than just building a road, town engineer Keith Brann said. There would need to be right-of-way acquisitions from properties that the road crossed. All told, he said the road would cost about $1 million. It was on a list of possible capital-improvement projects for the town, but did not make the cut for the 2011-2012 budget.

Honea said the town isn't often in the business of building roads; it usually makes developers foot the bill for such construction, or uses federal funding or other types of grants to get the roads built.

Meza said she believes the landowners where the road would go would donate that property, since it would improve their chances of future development in the area. Beyond that, though, she said her neighborhood hasn't figured out a way to get funding for the project.

Town officials offered other solutions following the traffic study, such as speed humps and a four-way stop sign at the neighborhood's only intersection, where Amole Circle and Tortolita Street meet. Those options were rejected by residents.

"We turned that down because it was short-term," said longtime Marana Estates resident Phyllis Farenga. "It was a Band-Aid to a very serious problem."

Farenga, who owns a pest-control company and describes herself as a political activist, considered the traffic study a sham—the latest in a string of shady moves by the town in regards to her neighborhood.

"This study was so narrow in scope," said Farenga, who has lived in Marana Estates since 1983. "Kids have been dodging trucks for four years. The town of Marana didn't do their due diligence, just like when they allowed Ray's to come in. It didn't go through a significant land-use-change process."

All of the commercial properties in and around Marana Estates are zoned as a transportation zone, a designation that has existed since the area was annexed by Marana in 1980, Brann said. Any property that didn't have a home on it got that designation, which allows for most kinds of commercial or industrial development, Brann said.

The previous business to exist on the Ray's Diesel property—which made wood chips and fire logs—burned down in 2001. The town's zoning laws at the time included a "do what your neighbors did" clause, town planning director Kevin Kish said, which meant Ray's was able to come in without the need for a significant land-use change.

The mix of residential and commercial property found in Marana Estates is common in so-called colonias, what the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development calls small rural neighborhoods within 150 miles of the Mexican border, said T. VanHook, Marana's community development director.

VanHook said her department has been working with Marana Estates residents to develop a comprehensive neighborhood plan that would address, in addition to traffic, all of the residents' concerns.

"We're really trying to get down, in writing, an agreement with the town itself that we want to preserve our neighborhood," Meza said. "It's real quiet and peaceful here. We want to have a say with any new businesses that come in."

Residents last month successfully fought a plan to have a recycling facility put in at the entrance to Marana Estates.

Honea, a lifelong Marana resident with 24 years on the council, recently began his third term as mayor. He said he imagines a bypass road will "eventually" happen, though he can't say when that will be. Either more truck traffic will need to be noticed through an additional study, or funding will need to be found to build the road.

Until then, Farenga said, she and her neighbors will continue to press the town to get something done, perhaps through speaking at public meetings or a community website. She just hopes nothing happens to any of the neighborhood children while the effort continues.

"If any of us get injured, there definitely will be legal action," she said. "Sometimes, that's the only way you can talk to the town."

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