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Phoenix Grand Canalscape Redevelopment Plans Roll Out In June

Published: Tuesday, May 31, 2016 - 5:02pm
Updated: Wednesday, June 1, 2016 - 4:02pm
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(Photo by Lauren Gilger - KJZZ)
Kerry Wilcoxon is head of the Neighborhood Traffic Safety group for the city of Phoenix and an engineer with the city.
(Photo by Lauren Gilger - KJZZ)
The canal redevelopment project will eventually result in a continuous trail from Glendale to Tempe.

A lot of the canals winding their way through the Valley are not exactly what you would call friendly places.

“Most people think of the grand canal as a place where they get water, but other than that, they sort of turn their backs on it,” according to Kerry Wilcoxon, head of the Neighborhood Traffic Safety group for the city of Phoenix and an engineer with the city.  “You can see mattresses and shopping carts, and a lot of refuse from the neighborhoods around it dumped along the side of it.”

But, Wilcoxon hopes all of that is going to change soon.

He’s helping to implement the city’s Grand Canalscape plan, which will create a nearly 12-mile trail system along the Grand Canal from the Interstate 17 to the Phoenix and Tempe border. Ultimately, the plan will create a continuous trail all the way from Glendale to Tempe.

The city is holding a public meeting on June 14 at Gateway Community College to update people on the design plans, get some public feedback and lay out their timeline for the project.

Wilcoxon said they’re set to begin construction on phase one of the project in the spring of 2017. Phase one covers the canal from about 15th Avenue to 16th Street in uptown Phoenix. Then, by the next winter, they’ll start construction on the rest of it on the west and east sides of the city, he said.

Embracing the canals is not a new idea, according to Diane Brossart, president and CEO of Arizona Forward, a business-based environmental public interest group in the state.

A few years ago, they took up the idea of reinvesting in the city’s canals and started near the canal in central Phoenix, where four schools are built around it — Central High School, Xavier College Preparatory, Brophy College Preparatory and St. Francis Xavier Elementary School.

With the help of some of their students, Arizona Forward came up with a plan to revitalize the canal that separates their campuses, Brossart said. The city liked the idea, tracked down some funding and, eventually, this larger plan to revitalize much more of the canal was born.

“We are looking at the whole idea of Canalscape as a regional initiative, because we have more canals in the Valley than Venice and Amsterdam combined,” she said. “And, traditionally, we’ve turned our back to the canals and treated them like alley ways. So, this idea embraces the canals as placemakers and gathering spaces for recreation and activity, and connecting cities and people.”

However, the plan has taken much longer than anticipated to put into place, according to Wilcoxon.

“When we first got into this project, we didn’t really, [the] city of Phoenix, didn’t really have a lot of experience building canal trails. And we certainly didn’t have much experience building such a large trail,” he said. “So, we ran into a myriad of problems that have had budget and just practical implications on what we can do along the canals.”

One of the most daunting problems, he said, was dealing with where the canals cross streets, which are some of the busiest in the Valley.

“We try and space our traffic signals every half mile or so,” he said. “And a lot of our crossing points are 300, 400 feet away from an existing signal.”

They’re also dealing with problems of vertical clearance along the canals, where power lines overhead are low. They need to keep about 10 feet clear below those lines, Wilcoxon said, which means they’ll have to be creative putting in lighting along the trails.

Also, the canal itself needs vertical clearance of about 20 feet to that SRP can service it. And, they’re building on the north side of the canal. “And, in Phoenix, that means that this portion of the canal will be under direct sunlight for most of the year. So any chance of putting in shade is going to be limited,” he said.

The city originally got $5 million in funding from city funds and Salt River Project for the project, Wilcoxon said. Then, they got a $10 million federal grant to build the rest of it.

The city has been putting in additional money to backfill the budget deficit, he said. Now, he said the total budget is up to $22 million.

They’re finally ready to start moving forward and have most of the problems hashed out, said Wilcoxon.

He said he’s hoping the trails give people an alternative to driving.

“I’m really hoping that more businesses see the people on this trail as an opportunity,” he said, “and then I’m also hoping that the neighborhoods begin seeing the canals as more of an asset, rather than a liability.”

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