News & Media

Cost estimates balloon for Oro Valley wildlife crossings

by Becky Pallack (Arizona Daily Star)
July 18, 2012

Plans for three wildlife crossings in the Oro Valley area are in jeopardy after updated cost estimates came in at $11.2 million.

That’s $3 million, or 36.5 percent, more than the original estimate five years ago.

The Regional Transportation Authority board approved spending $8.2 million on the Oracle Road wildlife crossings in 2009. An RTA committee is now looking for ways to save the crossings, potentially with changes in the location or number of crossings, or by convincing the RTA governing board the higher cost is justified.

The money would come from a $45 million fund earmarked for wildlife projects that was part of the voter-approved Regional Transportation Authority plans.

If more money is spent on the Oracle Road crossings, there will be less to spend on other wildlife projects, potentially jeopardizing a proposed crossing on Interstate 10, said RTA transportation services director Jim DeGrood.

But when the RTA’s Wildlife Linkages Working Group asked the board last month to authorize spending 36.5 percent more, the RTA board sent the request back to them, saying the higher cost and new location of an underpass need further attention.

“We’ve been working with this budget and unfortunately it got more expensive,” committee representative Carolyn Campbell told the RTA board.

A cost estimate was developed five years ago, but at the time no one had designed or built a wildlife crossing in Arizona and the estimate proved to be low as plans progressed in the design phase, she said.

The crossings would be built as part of the project to widen Oracle Road to six lanes between Tangerine Road and the Pinal County line.

They’re meant to prevent crashes by giving deer, javelinas and other animals a way to safely cross Oracle Road when they move between the Tortolita and Catalina mountain ranges. Fences would guide animals to the crossing points.

The points being discussed now are an overpass near the former Catalina Mountain School, an underpass at the north end of Catalina State Park and an underpass just north of Tangerine Road.

That third point is different from the original proposal, and also is a source of controversy.

The crossing near Tangerine Road would connect to Innovation Park, a growing bioscience employment center that is a major focus of Oro Valley’s economic development plans.

But owners of the park and town leaders weren’t filled in on the change.

Now the committee has another chance to get everyone on board, including the owners of Innovation Park.

“I guess we’re a little behind the eight ball on working with Innovation Park,” Campbell told the RTA board.

The committee members are meeting with Venture West and preparing renderings to show the wildlife crossing isn’t inconsistent with the Innovation Park development and could actually enhance the project, Campbell told the working group this week.

“I’m super-optimistic that we’re going to work through the issues with the landowners,” she said.

Oro Valley Mayor and RTA Board Chairman Satish Hiremath said the town wants to support the project but also wants each crossing location to be properly vetted with all of the affected groups.

If the committee can’t get everyone on board, he said, it’ll have to go back to the drawing board, switch back to the original three locations, or go with two crossings instead of three.

Contact reporter Becky Pallack at bpallack@azstarnet.com or 573-4346.