The new stoplight at the intersection of Highway 260 and Tyler Parkway hasn't even been turned on yet and already it's generating controversy.
The biggest question on people's minds is, "Why?" Why put a stoplight at an intersection that isn't all that busy, when there are other, busier intersections with highways 260 and 87 that would be much better candidates. Some people are even asking if the stoplight is going in because of the affluent subdivisions planned for Tyler Parkway.
Not true says LaRon Garrett, public works engineer for the town of Payson.
"It was a requirement from the Arizona Department of Transportation that they had to put that signal in for access into The Rim Golf Club," Garrett said. "So it's actually Crescent Development, developer of the golf club, who is paying for that signal."
And stoplights are not cheap.
"It costs an average of $170,000 for a state signal," said Randy Blake, ADOT traffic engineering specialist. "To put signals in where they are not warranted is (not only) a waste of money, but also increases delays, pollution and congestion."
Liability is another issue ADOT factors in.
"The number of accidents goes up when a signal goes in," Blake said. "The severity goes down, but the number goes up. You don't have the T-bones or left turn accidents, because the signal protects those movements. But you have more rear-ends and sideswipes."
ADOT conducts traffic studies of all large, new developments based on traffic projections when they are "built out," applying 11 warrants to the specific intersection. The number of people who will live near and therefore use the cross street is not that much of a factor in determining whether a stoplight is warranted.
"You just can't do it by a hard and fast number of people," Blake said. "I wish it was as simple as that, because then we wouldn't need engineers doing it."
Most of the warrants are based on the amount of time vehicles are delayed at an intersection.
"If you pull up to stop sign and have to wait for one or two cars, your delay is pretty miniscule," Blake said. "But if you pull up and there's five cars in front of you and you're waiting and waiting, it might be approaching a delay that warrants a signal."
On the other hand, Blake says ADOT cannot "signalize" every street and driveway so other factors are considered.
"The Tyler Parkway signal has regional significance," he said. "With the Tyler Parkway connector (the portion of the road already open between highways 87 and 260), it services the needs of the community as well as the Rim."
Blake said Tyler will also extend south and connect up "somewhere else" someday, giving the parkway a "regional significance."
Another issue raised by critics of the new signal is that semis and other large trucks will have a hard time stopping because of limited visibility in the area. Both Blake and Garrett emphasized that design engineers will take that into consideration.
"We calculate the clearances using advance loop detectors," Blake said. "At intersections where clearance might be a problem, a very simple solution is to have the yellow bulb in the signal stay on for an extra second or so. That way there is no vehicle in the intersection in case they do run the light. It's all built in as part of the design."
The other two intersections that some locals argue would make better candidates for a signal are Airport Road and Houston Mesa Road at Highway 87. Houston Mesa doesn't meet warrants, according to Blake, but Airport finally did in a recent traffic study.
"The latest ADOT study of that intersection showed it does warrant a signal," Garrett said, but because a developer will not be funding it, don't expect it to be installed in the near future. "It could be coming in the next couple years if we get funding broke loose for it," Garrett said.
Because the signal at Airport Road will not be development-driven, it will probably be financed 50-50 by the town and ADOT, Blake said.
Another factor reducing the possibility of a stoplight at Houston Mesa Road is its close proximity to Tyler Parkway. Because the two roads are so close at Highway 87, ADOT has told the town only one or the other can have a signal when warrants are eventually met.
Meanwhile, Rim country motorists should enjoy the unobstructed drive between Payson and Star Valley while they can, because the stoplight at Tyler Parkway will be turned on soon probably by the end of the month, according to Garrett.
"By law, we can turn it on anytime if the projected warrant is (going to be) met within five years," said Bob Longiness, ADOT traffic engineer and Blake's supervisor.
And if there's any consolation, it's that it didn't cost a nickel of taxpayers' money.
"The Rim Club is paying for it," Blake said. "Otherwise you and I would be paying for it."