A heavy equipment operator from the Nogales Public Works Department checks out a recently rented motor grader at the public works yard on Monday.

The Nogales Public Works Department was getting ready to kickstart road work between Nogales High School and San Felipe Catholic Church on Monday, one of several road projects discussed at last Wednesday’s meeting of the Nogales City Council.

The work on Mariposa Ranch Road is part of a larger project that’s been in the works for months and will eventually put a bike and pedestrian path – funded by the Arizona Department of Transportation – along parts of Apache Boulevard and Grand Avenue. That project could take years, but some parts were set to start this week after Mayor Arturo Garino complained to City Engineer Juan Guerra about the sluggish pace of progress at the meeting.

“I’ve been telling you and everybody else and staff that we should have been paving this road in-house and doing our own sidewalks since two years ago, since I came into office,” Garino said.

Guerra said that the plan was to wait until designs for the bike and pedestrian lane are finalized with ADOT, but some work could begin on a stretch of Mariposa Ranch Road, an area that won’t be impacted by the bike path work.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, the council approved a pair of contracts that will farm out to Tucson- and Phoenix-based contractors road improvements on Mastick Way, the Coronado subdivision, Camino Vista Del Cielo, Gold Hill Road, Baffert Drive, Calle Sonora, Morley Avenue, Hohokam Drive, Walnut Street, Western Avenue and Frank Reed Road.

The measures taken, as well as the dynamic on display at the meeting, could be a preview of what’s to come from a new Nogales City Council that held its first session on Jan. 6 with two new members: Saulo Bonilla and Liza Montiel. The two replaced Marcelino Varona, Jr. and Nubar Hanessian.

Montiel, who worked as an executive assistant to the mayor from January 2019 until her resignation that November, was quiet throughout the meeting. But Bonilla, who was endorsed by Garino in the run-up to the 2020 elections, was quick to echo the mayor’s concerns.

As Garino wrapped up his complaints, Bonilla chimed in: “What was the excuse, or the reason, why it wasn’t started two years ago?” Garino replied: “I don’t know.”

Varona and Hanessian, friends who often disagreed on politics, both cultivated a position as independent voices on the council. Varona’s aggressive style and willingness to clash with his colleagues meant he frequently dominated council meetings during the first two years of Garino’s current term. The more mild-mannered Hanessian incited fewer arguments, but wasn’t shy about dissenting when he disagreed with the mayor or a majority of the council.

Their absence from the council’s new lineup appears to leave more space for the mayor to assert his authority. And for Garino, a former director of the Public Works Department, infrastructure work is fertile ground for flexing.

“The weather right now is perfect for paving, and we’re not doing anything in-house,” he told Guerra, who eventually agreed to have officials take a field trip to the site the next day with an eye toward starting work on Mariposa Ranch Road between Frank Reed Road and the entrance to San Felipe Catholic Church.

“Right now is your time, can we do that?” Garino said in reference to moving quickly on the designated stretch of road.

“Yes, sir,” Guerra replied.

“Good, that’s what I like to hear,” the mayor said.

Following last Thursday’s site trip, a rented motor grader was delivered to the public works building on Monday morning. Crews will begin asphalt removal on Mariposa Ranch Road this week, in preparation for paving, Guerra told the NI in an email on Monday.

He added that city crews could start work improving the Apache Boulevard sidewalk, along a stretch that will eventually have the ADOT-funded bike lane. But, he wrote: “My professional recommendation is to wait a few more months until the road realignment design is complete.”

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