Faster traffic along Fossil Creek Road may be just around the corner.
At an open house last week to discuss Fossil Creek improvements, a panel of eight experts, including Gila County District One Supervisor Ron Christensen, addressed the questions and concerns of the more than 60 people in attendance.
It will cost about $1 million to widen two-and-a-half-miles of the two-lane county road Christensen said. About 97 percent of that total will come from state money and will not affect the county's budget.
The county has contracted with ASL Consulting Engineers in Payson to draft the plans that will bring the current 24-foot-wide roadway to an average of 26-feet wide and will add a shared-use path for pedestrian, equestrian and bicycle traffic, said Joe Alwin, project engineer. Reconstructing the roadway will mean lowering some hills and straightening a few curves, and the speed limit would increase to 30 mph from its current posted speed of 25 mph, Alwin said.
Fossil Creek Road improvements will begin at the intersection of Highway 87 and continue west two-and-a-half-miles to Nash Pasture Road, Alwin said.
The shared-use path will likely be constructed of cinders or a granite material and will be six feet from the paved roadway for safety, bringing the road width to about 40 feet, he said.
"Right now the average right-of-way varies from 54 to 56 feet. We think we can get inside those limits (without affecting private property)," Alwin said. Decisions about the minor areas where private property might be a part of the development are left to John Trujillo, director of engineering for Gila County, Alwin said. Widening the road and creating the new path will take about 200 trees from the right-of-way.
"It's about one tree for every 200 feet," Alwin said. Engineers will try to weave the path through the trees, but some must come out for safety reasons. "People think we are putting a freeway here and we are not," he said. "We are making it safer. There have been too many accidents at Rimwood."
In the past eight years, there have been 31 reported accidents on Fossil Creek Road. Twenty percent of those -- about six to seven accidents --have occurred at the intersection of Rimwood, Dan's Highway and Fossil Creek Road, Alwin said. Another 10 percent have occurred at the intersection of Highway 87 and Fossil Creek Road.
Getting this project under way means a new look at that intersection.
Business owners Jean Turner and Rose Harper are concerned about customers' access to their businesses.
Turner owns the Strawberry Lodge, and is concerned customers will have a tough time getting to her driveway.
"Jean Turner was concerned that she would be losing part of her driveway. We don't believe that is the case and will make every effort to ensure that that doesn't happen," Alwin said.
Harper owns MVP Realty located at the corner of Fossil Creek, Strawberry Drive and Highway 87.
"If the road becomes realigned per our design, her primary access may be limited," Alwin said. "We really have to look at that one very specifically and very methodically. We do not want to limit access if we can avoid it at all."
In its initial proposal, ASL's engineers created a new road perpendicular to Fossil Creek that led to Strawberry Drive, eliminating Strawberry Drive's current access to the main thoroughfare of Strawberry. In that initial change, engineers also wiped out Harper's current driveway, preventing her clients from reaching MVP by the front door.
"All the commercial activity from my corner would be taken onto a residential street. We would then share that road with the residential traffic on Fossil Creek Road," Harper said. "I don't think that is fair."
Harper and project manager Chuck Williams have discussed the issue and the two will meet again this week to work on finding a workable solution for Harper's business, Gila County and the Arizona Department of Transportation, Harper said.
"This is between conceptual and final-design stage," Alwin said. Engineers and the county are looking for pubic input from residents like Turner and Harper to bring this project to completion.
"Ideal completion would be prior to Dec. 2000," Alwin said. Phase two would follow, taking paved roadway another nine-tenths of a mile to Forest Road 428 and the Forest Service Boundary. Phase two's budget and timeline will be decided near the completion of phase one. These two phases of construction will prepare the road for the next 20 years, Alwin said.
"The current average daily traffic is a little over 800 vehicles," Alwin said. "Engineers have forecasted that if growth continues as it has in 20 years 2,000 cars could travel that road on a daily basis. We have to assume it will grow, otherwise the roadway becomes obsolete.
"(If the traffic continues to increase), the road would be so beat to death, you'd be out there rebuilding it again. This way, if growth slows, or even stops, the roadway is still usable and its life extended."