Rim country residents are being asked to take a role in determining the fate of Highway 87 through Pine and Strawberry.
Arizona Department of Transportation District Engineer Tom Foster will lead a town hall-type meeting about the future of Highway 87 from Payson north, through or around the Pine-Strawberry area, at 5:30 p.m. Thursday in the Cultural Hall at the Community Center in Pine. Bring your friends and your input, Foster said.
"We want to talk to the folks. We really want to see what the residents feel about this," Foster said.
He decided to set up the meeting after receiving a call from Pine resident Leslie Alexander, who read an editorial in the July 30 Roundup indicating that state officials were after input from locals about the future of transportation in the Rim country.
Also coming with Foster are Rich DeBoer, ADOT roadway designer, and Darrell Truitt, executive vice president of Agra Infrastructure, an engineering firm.
"There is always going to be a major road about where that one is in Pine," Foster said. But the challenge facing his department is how to engineer a way to handle more traffic north from Payson -- and how to pay for the improvements.
A 1996 study showed the number of cars that rolled north on Highway 87 from Payson equaled those that turned right on Highway 260, a surprise to Foster and his staff, who expected the heavier traffic flow on 260.
"Forty percent of that traffic went on after Pine-Strawberry," Foster said.
It's the 60 percent who travel between Pine, Strawberry and Payson who should be interested in highway improvements, Foster said. "Right now we have a lot of opposition about going through (Pine-Strawberry)."
Foster must also find a way to navigate around historical structures like the community center where the meeting will be held. "I think we could put a pretty decent road through there without touching one," he said.
Before the highway can be targeted to go through a town with historical concerns, all outside routes must be eliminated, and with that comes discussions with the Forest Service. To date talks with the Forest Service have been slow, bogging down the project, Foster said.
An engineering report listing possible Highway 87 routes around the Pine-Strawberry area is available for review at the Isabelle Hunt Memorial Library on Randall Drive in Pine. The library is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.
Despite the project's hurdles, Foster is adamant that a solution must be found and the local residents should have a voice in that solution.
Foster hopes to spark an interest in members of the Pine-Strawberry community to join the Northern Gila County Highways Committee, currently chaired by Cliff Potts of Payson.
"That would be a big step, to have folks that can represent a consensus of the community," he said.
One of the keys to remember is that none of this will happen for a good many years, Foster said.
"We are short several hundred million dollars in the five-year (highway construction) program and $8.6-billion short for the long-range statewide program," he said.
For now, $140-million is aimed at the widening of Highway 260 from Star Valley to Colcord Road, but to get any more projects in this area on the ADOT's budget is going to take support from the citizens and lobbying by the local highway committee, Foster said.
How to change a speed limit
Speed limits are set by 85 percent of the traveling public.
The Arizona Department of Transportation surveys how fast traffic travels through a specific area, and uses that information to set the speed limit.
For example, a survey showed that 85 percent of folks driving through Pine and Strawberry went about 35 miles per hour. If that 85 percent had driven slower or faster, the speed limit may have been set at a different level.
It's possible for local motorists to change the speed limit by changing their driving habits, said Tom Foster, district engineer for ADOT.
In Yarnell, a small town southwest of Prescott, citizens wanted to slow the speed limit on Highway 89 through town. They drove slower. After ADOT did its survey in the area, the speed limit was dropped from 35 to 25 mph, Foster said.