For years, the Northern Gila County Highways Committee has proven the theory of the squeaky wheel by staying on top of what highway improvement projects would serve the best interests of the Rim country. That committee, said Highway Committee chair Cliff Potts, has been instrumental in keeping local road projects at the forefront of Arizona Department of Transportation officials.
The time has come, however, for area bureaucracies to form a more politically powerful organization, Potts said.
Recently, he said, a major construction project scheduled for Highway 260 was bumped off ADOT plans in favor of a highway realignment project near Prescott. The proposed Highway 260 project would have widened the highway to four lanes, from Star Valley to Colcord Mountain Road, within the next five years.
The reason that project got bumped, Potts said, is due to the lobbying efforts of the Yavapai Regional Transportation Committee.
"They were able to argue for the project based on availability of funds and the water staging that would have been necessary for the Highway 260 project," Potts said. Potts said he's not bitter about the postponement, and even allows that by pushing back the project, workers currently staffed at the local ADOT office will keep their positions longer.
"The staff is tied up on the Highway 87 project right now," he said. "With the 260 project, they would have had to hire an outside consultant."
In response to the stiff competition for highway funds, and the need for community input in ADOT's planning, Potts said his committee believes a Gila Regional Transportation Committee is the answer to protecting other highway projects.
At a last-minute meeting Thursday of the Highway Committee, Potts talked with representatives from area municipalities and organizations about the need for forming a regional transportation committee. With representatives in attendance from the Town of Payson and Gila County, Potts said he felt there was sufficient interest in the endeavor.
"There is a real need for leaders from the town, county, chamber of commerce, and economic development corporation, and any other concern groups, to come together to make certain that highway construction projects in this area are built timely and in a manner that reflects the community needs," Potts said.
While there has been competition between Payson and Prescott in the past, Potts said leaders from the Yavapai group would be available to assist in forming the Rim country committee.
"The competition doesn't really exist between Payson and Prescott, but between all of rural Arizona against the metro areas," he said. "If they want to count the number of cars backed up at stop lights, Maricopa County wins. If they want to count the number of accidents, Maricopa County wins. It's rural Arizona that has to get organized and make sure our projects stay on the books."
To learn more about the formation of a regional transportation committee, contact Potts at 474-2337, or attend the next meeting of the Highway Committee, scheduled for 10 a.m., Oct. 14 at the Arizona Public Service building on Longhorn Road.