A feasibility study for the bypass around Payson is at the top of the wish list of the Payson Regional Economic Development Corporation, but such a roadway is many years away.
That's the view of Cliff Potts, chairperson of the Northern Gila County Highways Committee, an ad hoc committee which has been providing the Arizona Department of Transportation with input on local transportation issues for 20 years.
"We are trying to get ADOT to be a little more responsive to the transportation needs in our area," Potts said. "They're going through a long-range planning process, and Scott (Flake, PREDC director) put this together with what he thought were the issues confronting Payson. He ran it by me and passed it on to ADOT."
Bypass tops wish list
A study to assess the feasibility and impact of a bypass around town is the first item mentioned in the document, which is titled "Issues for ADOT Long Range Plan."
Potts, who says he won't take a stand pro or con until he sees such a study, believes the day will come when local businesses will suffer greater losses without a bypass.
"The bulk of our tourists come up here on major holiday weekends, and that's when we have virtual gridlock," he said. "That's what those people deal with day-in and day-out. They're not going to go to the mountains for very long under those conditions. I'm not real anxious to see a bypass, but in my mind, it's an inevitability. Otherwise it's going to be so congested, the tourists won't stop here. They won't want to get out of line."
But so far ADOT has taken no action except to say it expects the town to help share the cost of a feasibility study.
"ADOT has repeatedly told the town, ‘If you want a bypass or a plan to study a bypass, you have to help fund it.' The town has never addressed that, so right now, it's all talk."
Even if there was consensus in the community today to do a bypass, which Potts said there isn't, he believes it would take 15 years for it to become a reality. Without consensus it's not even worth speculating when it might happen.
The lone point of agreement so far is that a bypass would have to be strictly non-commercial.
"Otherwise, we'd just be building another Main Street," Potts said. "South Beeline was originally a bypass around the Main Street/McLane Road route."
Highway 260 funds pulled
Of more immediate concern, according to Potts, is the fact that the state transportation board has pulled the funds necessary to complete the widening of Highway 260 to the top of the Rim.
"You know all those pictures they drew for us a couple years ago," he said. "Well, they're going to do Christopher Creek and then Kohl's Ranch, and then there's no money in the program to do anything else.
"In all practicality, the money has been diverted to the metropolitan areas. The money's being spent in Maricopa County," he said. "A board member told me that if the federal government came through with more money, maybe they could put it back in, but I'm not real optimistic."
Potts said his committee also requested improvements to Highway 87 between Payson and Pine to no avail.
"There's no money in rural areas to do the expected construction, let alone what we want to have done," Potts said.
Other Payson-area priorities
In addition to the bypass, other priorities contained in the document developed by PREDC include:
- Other solutions to town congestion besides the bypass include working with the town of Payson to improve secondary streets to relieve traffic on state highways, and reprogramming-synchronization of traffic lights to facilitate better flow north and east on Thursday and Friday and west and south on Sunday and holiday Mondays.
- A connection between highways 60 and 87 east of Gilbert Road. Currently the eastern-most route from the East Valley to Highway 87 is Gilbert Road or the Bush Highway.
- A connection between north Scottsdale and Highway 87 north of Shea Boulevard. A link between the northern section of Loop 101 and Highway 87 would connect 87 to the north Phoenix area and to I-17.
- The addition of more tourism signs directing travelers to local historic sites, recreation locations, scenic views and other points of interest. Also signage directing traffic to Payson from I-40 and I-17 at Flagstaff, Winslow, Holbrook and Camp Verde.
- Construction of additional rest areas, scenic pullouts and other tourist amenities.
- More improvement to the distribution of current and accurate weather information and road conditions.
- Correction of drainage problems that can cause flooding on Highway 87 during heavy summer rains.
- Install sidewalk or trail for pedestrians and bicyclists along Highway 260 from Mud Springs Road east to the town limits.
ADOT is holding several public scoping meetings in different parts of the state to finalize the state's long-range plan. Details are available at moveaz.org.