Source: Phoenix Business Journal | Jeff Gifford

Work on the first phase of a major $446 million improvement project along Interstate 17 north of Phoenix is now underway, and drivers will soon start to see changes along the freeway — the primary link between the Valley and northern Arizona communities.

The Arizona Department of Transportation said this week that the work zone is being established along the 23-mile corridor between Anthem way and Sunset Point to the north. The project, which will continue for about three years, includes 15 miles of widening from Anthem Way to Black Canyon City and the addition of about eight miles of flex lanes from Black Canyon City to Sunset Point.

The thoroughfare has been subject to increasing congestion over the years as more drivers travel between central Arizona and northern communities such as Prescott, Sedona and Flagstaff. The stretch of highway being improved can sometimes see more than 50,000 drivers a day, ADOT has said.

“I want all drivers to be aware that ADOT is adding lanes to improve safety and reduce driver frustration by relieving the congestion the current configuration causes,” said ADOT Director John Halikowski in a statement. “Although there will be additional lanes, it is up to drivers to behave responsibly, operate their vehicles according to the law and, above all, be patient and courteous with each other. Let's get everyone safely home.”

Most construction on weeknights

Some construction will happen during daytime hours, officials said, but lane closures will only happen during off-peak travel times, either northbound or southbound, depending on the day of the week, ADOT said. Also, most of the lane closures will be on weeknights from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m., with none scheduled on weekends and holidays, when the freeway is most heavily traveled.

Existing travel lanes will be shifted to accommodate the construction zone.

The initial work includes guardrail repairs, equipment mobilization and work zone preparations inside and outside existing lanes. Preparations are expected to take about six weeks and will also include such things as wildlife surveys, spraying for noxious and invasive weeks, clearing vegetation and salvaging viable native plants, cacti and trees, ADOT said.

Contract negotiations on the project started in September 2021, and in October of that year ADOT signed a $446 million deal with a joint venture — made up of Phoenix-based Kiewit Infrastructure West Co. and Prescott-based Fann Contracting Inc. — to do the work on the I-17 project.

Gov. Doug Ducey earlier in 2021 had set aside $40 million in funding for the project, citing surplus revenue as a result of the state’s strong economic recovery and federal Covid-19 relief funds.

Federal, state money in the mix

Additional funding sources for the project include $130 million of state highway funds appropriated by the Legislature in 2019, $90 million from an Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant, $50 million from the Maricopa Association of Governments for the Maricopa County portion of the project, and $52.3 million from federal aid with matching state highway funds.

In the end, the work is expected to reduce slowdowns and backups that can occur when traffic is heavy or when accidents can block the road and there are no alternative routes nearby.

The flex lane system, which will be built next to the southbound lanes through a steep and winding section of freeway, will be separated from regular lanes by a barrier and will be controlled by gates that allow use for one direction of traffic at a time depending on greatest need. On Fridays, for instance, northbound lanes tend to be heaviest, and on Sundays the pattern reverses with southbound traffic tending to dominate.

The flex lanes will also be open for blocked traffic when regular lanes are blocked by accidents or other incidents, ADOT said. Flex lanes will be in use seven days a week, and overhead message signs will alert drivers about which direction is in use at a given time, ADOT said.

“The I-17 Improvement Project is an important investment in Arizona’s transportation infrastructure," Ducey said in a statement. “All who travel I-17 regularly for weekend trips and daily commutes will benefit, including commercial truckers who use this Key Commerce Corridor to haul goods and services throughout our state. This project is critical for Arizona drivers and our state’s economy.”

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Gov. Doug Ducey earlier in 2021 had set aside $40 million in funding for the project, citing surplus revenue as a result of the state’s strong economic recovery and federal Covid-19 relief funds.

Federal, state money in the mix

Additional funding sources for the project include $130 million of state highway funds appropriated by the Legislature in 2019, $90 million from an Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant, $50 million from the Maricopa Association of Governments for the Maricopa County portion of the project, and $52.3 million from federal aid with matching state highway funds.

In the end, the work is expected to reduce slowdowns and backups that can occur when traffic is heavy or when accidents can block the road and there are no alternative routes nearby.

The flex lane system, which will be built next to the southbound lanes through a steep and winding section of freeway, will be separated from regular lanes by a barrier and will be controlled by gates that allow use for one direction of traffic at a time depending on greatest need. On Fridays, for instance, northbound lanes tend to be heaviest, and on Sundays the pattern reverses with southbound traffic tending to dominate.

The flex lanes will also be open for blocked traffic when regular lanes are blocked by accidents or other incidents, ADOT said. Flex lanes will be in use seven days a week, and overhead message signs will alert drivers about which direction is in use at a given time, ADOT said.

“The I-17 Improvement Project is an important investment in Arizona’s transportation infrastructure," Ducey said in a statement. “All who travel I-17 regularly for weekend trips and daily commutes will benefit, including commercial truckers who use this Key Commerce Corridor to haul goods and services throughout our state. This project is critical for Arizona drivers and our state’s economy.”