Union work begins with Mountain overhaul
Arizona Summer Wildcat
The first sign of the massive construction that will swamp the University of Arizona for the next three years will begin this week when a portion of a major campus street closes to bicyclists.
Detour signs are scheduled to go up around campus that will direct bicycles away from North Mountain Avenue between East Speedway Boulevard and East Second Street.
Gilbert Davidson, UA assistant project manager for the Memorial Student Union renovations, said the new route is the first step in a major overhaul to Mountain, which will serve as the main access route for construction traffic.
The changes to Mountain are the first step toward the radical redirection of UA traffic to avoid future construction.
Bicyclists who use Mountain will instead have to use the North Highland Avenue underpass as their route to and from campus.
The intent is to keep bicyclists away from the construction vehicles that will soon dominate a sizable portion of the campus, Davidson said.
"We really want to minimize the large construction vehicles from mixing with bicycles," he said.
Davidson said an electronic message board will be placed on the corner of Speedway and Mountain to indicate the closure.
A sign north of Speedway will also go up this week that directs southbound bicyclists to turn east on East Helen Street before proceeding to the Highland underpass.
The appearance of the signs is the first step of the $60 million construction project that will affect much of the campus until 2002. Within the next two weeks Mountain will become a two-way street to compensate for the addition of construction trucks to the current traffic.
A new traffic light at the intersection of Mountain and Second will regulate increased traffic congestion.
"The volume of traffic is going to be pretty high," Davidson said.
UA delivery vehicles and other drivers will have to use a temporary access road connecting East North Campus Drive and Second to reach the rear of the union.
Because of the construction, the metered parking spots behind the union and the Mountain entrance to the Second Street Parking Garage will be closed for two years.
The UA hired Swinerton & Walberg to complete the renovations for the Memorial Student Union. Some of their past projects include the Tucson Heart Hospital and Hohokam Park, the Mesa spring training complex for the Chicago Cubs baseball club.
David Seese, project manager for the UA site, said the San Francisco-based company is estimating that 6,000 trucks filled with debris will be leaving the construction site in the first five months of the project alone.
That figure, which breaks down to about six trucks leaving during every business hour, has UA and construction officials scrambling to ensure student safety.
"There are going to be disruptions - there's no way to avoid it," Seese said. "It's going to be congested."
Although many UA students say they are unfamiliar with the construction details, they are confident that their safety will not be jeopardized.
"I think the university will adequately address the safety interest of the students," said Tom Bauman, a third-year law student.
Bauman said he thinks the disruptions are justified because of the union's location in the center of campus.
Keith Bourie, an elementary education junior, said the union renovations will improve the quality of the campus, even though he doesn't spend much time there.
"If it needs to be done, then it needs to be done," Bourie said.
The project's campus impact will intensify on Aug. 2 when a fence will isolate the union's entire east wing, as well as a large area just north of the UA Associated Students Bookstore.
The only remaining access to the union will be the main entrance and the walkway between the bookstore and the Fiddlee Fig.
The fence will also eliminate pedestrian traffic along the south side of Second.
The actual demolition of the union's east wing is scheduled for early September.
Further complicating traffic around campus will be the construction of the Integrated Learning Center - slated to begin two weeks after the union fence is erected.
The northbound lane of North Cherry Avenue will be closed for 18 months because of another fence that will surround the ILC construction site.
Excavation for the ILC is scheduled to begin in late August, when 100,000 cubic yards of dirt will be hauled away to make room for the one story underground building.