Unwinding Houston Mesa Road

Road realignment receives approval


Unless an appeal puts the kibosh on the plan, Houston Mesa Road is due for realignment and reconstruction from the first crossing to the third crossing of East Verde River.

The decision by Tonto National Forest Supervisor Karl P. Siderits will be the basis for a request for funding, through the Forest Service or Gila County, for final design and reconstruction.

No money has been allocated for the project, and it is unknown when it might become available, District Ranger Ed Armenta said in a recent report.

The authorization sprang from an environmental assessment, made available to the public in February 1999, which analyzed the effects of rebuilding the road.

Based on that assessment, required by the National Environmental Policy Act, Sideritz wants, in part, to eliminate the two existing low-water river crossings, which, he said, will reduce water pollution caused by oil, antifreeze and other hazardous fluids washing off the undersides of vehicles and into the river.

Although Gila County began paving Houston Mesa Road in October 1999 to reduce maintenance and air quality concerns, realignment should further reduce dust kicked up by road use and maintenance, Sideritz reported.

The proposed new road segment will be about two miles long and will affect about 12 acres.

Among Sideritz's other findings in response to the NEPA analysis:

Bridged crossings and the restriction of vehicle access in the riparian zone will improve water quality. Realigning the road will provide better driving conditions, reduce commuting and emergency vehicle response time, and provide an opportunity to enhance recreation management. Construction of the road, however, is expected to create a "short-term adverse effect on water quality and aquatic and wildlife use patterns."

The potential for increases in vehicle-wildlife/livestock collisions because of increased automobile speeds will be offset by improved road visibility and considerations for wildlife crossings. Speed limits also will be posted to minimize such collisions.

While Houston Mesa Road has been determined ineligible for the National Register of Historic Places, Sideritz' cultural resource survey indicates that two historic, one prehistoric and one "multi-component site" might be located within the realignment corridor, depending on the final road design.

In a biological assessment and evaluation of the site, it was determined that no endangered, threatened and sensitive species will be affected by the project.

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