Planning for the infrastructure needs of a rapidly growing municipality like Queen Creek can be difficult.
But in the early 2000s, town officials worked with Pinal and Maricopa counties’ transportation planners to try and predict what a small but up-and-coming corner of southeast Queen Creek would look like in 2020.
That small corner is expanding faster than even the experts could have imagined and Queen Creek officials are revisiting their prognostications.
The 27-square-mile block of land is bordered by Ray, Combs, Meridian and Schnepf roads and encompasses the proposed LG Energy Solutions battery factory, the State Route 24 extension and Pinal Parkway as well as houses and connector roads.
“When an area has an explosion of growth, we do what’s called a small area transportation study,” said Mohamed Youssef, town public works director. “It’s a focused study in a certain area to see what’s going on there and how we can plan for better transportation systems to accommodate the growth that’s happening in the area.”
Queen Creek is focusing on this area and its infrastructure needs to keep up with the projected job growth partly because this little block of land was always going to be something special.
SR 24 was projected to bring this type of growth. But now, partly due to the LG plant, this block of Queen Creek is predicted to add at least 7,500 jobs by 2030, a growth rate of 530%.
Add the two miles surrounding the smaller focus area, and that job projection jumps to 9,500, for an overall growth rate of 150%, according to town data.
There are about 100,000 people living inside this growth area, but given the projections, there will be triple that number by 2030.
“So, this is like two times of San Tan Valley in terms of population growth,” Youssef said. “Employment growth is also huge there.”
Perhaps the most high-profile part of this study involves the impact that the opening of SR 24 and the extension of the Pinal Parkway will have on traffic flow. Both freeways will combine to give drivers an option other than surface streets to access the Loop 202 freeway system.
“You don’t want to deal with traffic signals and a roadway network that might be clogged with access and commercial and all of that,” Youssef said, explaining:
“You will definitely take the parkway all the way to SR 24 onto the freeway and that will relieve the traffic right now on the existing street network.“
The small study area will eventually be folded into the town’s Transportation Master Plan.
The money for amending this small area plan is miniscule. It amounts to an intergovernmental agreement with Pinal County, and won’t exceed $40,400 but is an important component in the methodical process of keeping a focus on future infrastructure needs.
“This council is committed to keeping transportation a top priority,” said Mayor-elect Julia Wheatley.
But in the bigger picture, Queen Creek’s transportation budget dwarfs any other segment of the town’s $730-million spending plan with 73% targeted for capital improvement projects. Of that, a quarter is spent on roads, bridges and other transportation infrastructure.
The numbers might change over time, but for the foreseeable future, the demand on infrastructure and the need to stay ahead of the curve, won’t.
“Planning is a very important part of the development,” Youssef said. “We don’t want to plan wrong and then construct wrong.”
“This will change the traffic circulation in the area.”