In terms of cost and potential impacts, few City of Tucson road widening projects can top Grant Road. Only the widening of Speedway from Park to Alvernon presented a similar challenge of major improvements in an older, developed area of the City.
Approved by area voters as part of the Regional Transportation Authority’s package of road improvements in 2005, the Grant Road project was estimated then to cost over $175 million, of which over $105 million (or 60%) represented right-of-way (ROW) acquisition costs. Of the 34 projects identified by the RTA in 2005, only the widening of Houghton Road from Tanque Verde to I-10, and the Barraza/Aviation Parkway from Palo Verde to I-10 exceed Grant Road in estimated costs. No RTA project has higher estimated ROW costs.
Stretching five miles from Oracle Road to Swan Road, the Grant Road project will:
Widen the existing roadway to six travel lanes with medians;
Introduce “indirect” left turns at the major intersections with Oracle, Stone, First Avenue, Campbell, Country Club, Alvernon and Swan;
Add local access lanes for homes facing the road;
Include five possible closures of intersecting streets; and
Provide new bus pullouts and signalized pedestrian/bike crossings.
These improvements and the realignment of the roadway will require significant new ROW. Initial surveys suggested that more than 400 properties would be directly affected by ROW acquisition. In some instances, the impacts on the remaining property will be so severe that the City will recommend purchases of an entire parcel.
Although final designs have not been approved and construction will not begin until 2013, the City has already begun to acquire ROW as properties come on the market or owners request early purchase for hardship reasons.
Impacts on Owners and Businesses
Some impacts of the project on property owners and businesses will be:
- Physical taking of land for additional ROW. Where the City lacks sufficient ROW for the widening, it will acquire the land from adjacent owners by negotiated purchase, and, if necessary, the exercise of eminent domain.
- Loss of vehicular access. Even where the City has enough ROW, the project may affect access to property by eliminating curb cuts, installing continuous medians, closing intersecting streets, and constructing local access lanes.
- Removal of billboards. Where existing nonconforming billboards are located on land wholly or partially taken by the City, the owners will not be allowed to relocate them.
- Creation or increase of regulatory non-conformities. Previous widening projects and code changes may have left adjacent development non-conforming in some way: parking and loading spaces, landscaping, vehicular and pedestrian circulation and access. Although existing development can continue to be used in its non-conforming condition, expansion or change of use (e.g., retail to restaurant) may be costly or impossible.
- Loss of business and tenants. Uncertainty about the design of the project and resulting long-term impacts, plus disruption during construction, may cause loss of tenants and business income.
- New zoning regulations. The City’s project materials hint at new regulations which would create the possibility of more dense, mixed use development, allowing properties in the Grant corridor to take advantage of increased traffic flows and improved public transit. In the Speedway widening project, the City used its ability to assemble remainder parcels to create shared business parking and access opportunities.
How Can We Help?
Lewis and Roca is uniquely positioned to assist property owners and businesses affected by the Grant Road project:
- ROW acquisition. The firm’s litigators have extensive experience representing both property owners and local governments in eminent domain litigation. Coupled with the firm’s expertise in commercial real estate transactions and its long contacts with City transportation and real estate officials, we can advise property owners on all aspects of ROW acquisition.
- Regulatory impacts. The firm’s land use practice is intimately familiar with the City’s development regulations and understands the potential impact of the project on existing and future development. This knowledge offers an added dimension in negotiations with the City on ROW acquisition.
- Land Use Code. We are closely monitoring the City’s Land Use Code revision process and parallel efforts to encourage inner-city development through more flexible land use regulations, including new regulations for the Grant Road corridor.
- Development and redevelopment opportunities. Our experience with the Speedway widening, City redevelopment projects, and the negotiation of real estate development agreements, allows us to help clients take advantage of the Grant Road project by identifying and locking in future development opportunities as part of a settlement with the City.
This Client Alert has been prepared by Lewis and Roca LLP for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. Readers should seek professional legal advice on matters involving these issues.
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