The year was 1966, the United States increased its troop presence in Vietnam, Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California, The Beatles played their final concert, and the 22nd Street bridge over the railroad tracks opened.
Clearly, the world has changed a lot since 1966. Among the changes are the transportation needs in the Tucson area.
“The 22nd Street bridge project contains many of the elements that were suitable for that time, but now it needs to be modernized,” said Rick Ellis, Pima Association of Governments Director of Transportation Services.
The bridge, between Kino Parkway and Tucson Boulevard, is one segment of the large 22nd Street corridor project in the 2006, voter-approved RTA plan.
After more than 50 years of constant pounding, weight limitations have been set for the bridge, which reduces the size of vehicles that can cross. In particular, semi-trucks and transit vehicles must avoid the bridge.
“That really limits and hinders the overall capability of that roadway,” Ellis said.
The bridge also has other limitations, a product of the 1960’s era rather than deficiencies in design, such as limited pedestrian and bicycle access, making traversing the bridge by those modes a challenge.
Designs for the new bridge include an additional lane in each direction to meet the current and projected travel demands, as well as dedicated and protected pedestrian and bicycle lanes through the center of the bridge structure.
Rest areas with seating and shade structures also are part of the bike and pedestrian area’s design. HAWK signal crossings placed at either end of the bridge will provide protected access for cyclists and pedestrians.
In addition to addressing the current shortcomings, some exciting design and construction elements will be used.
After the existing bridge is demolished and new stanchions erected, the new structure will be pieced together using segmental bridge construction. This method essentially connects prebuilt concrete segments of bridge and stitches them together with post-tension cables.
Segmental construction minimizes construction-related disturbances on the ground. This is important for the operation of the busy Union Pacific Railroad tracks and Barraza-Aviation Parkway which the bridge will span.
The bridge design also will have a gentler slope, which will make for a more comfortable ride for motorists.
While the result will be better safety features, modern construction, and more capacity, a project of this size and complexity is bound to cause considerable disruptions including a lengthy closure.
“I always tell people, try to imagine living in your house, going about all your daily routine activities, and you’re trying to do full-blown renovations,” Ellis said.
The final project
Design elements for the project include:
- New travel lanes on 22nd Street in each direction, totaling six lanes
- Intersection improvements along 22nd Street
- Safety improvements
- Improved mobility for vehicles, transit, bicycles, and pedestrians
- HAWK signals at the east and west ends to provide safe pedestrian and bicycle access
Other changes motorists will find include the closure of the westbound exit ramp entering onto Barraza-Aviation Highway. City officials said this closure is necessitated by the need to meet modern safety standards, requiring greater distances between highway onramps. Kino Parkway is the alternative access.
Plumer Avenue will connect directly to westbound 22nd Street.
Work is anticipated to begin in spring 2023 and run for two and a half to three years.
Tucson Department of Transportation and Mobility has project details, a detour map, and a video of previous open house presentations at https://dtmprojects.tucsonaz.gov/pages/22nd-street-bridge.