Payson's streets are a little like the weather -- everybody complains about them, but nobody seems to be able to do anything.
The complaints are overwhelmingly about the state of disrepair the town's streets are in -- especially McLane Road, Manzanita Drive and Bonita Street.
In fact, the streets and the weather are tied together, with Payson's wet winter wreaking havoc on streets that are already falling apart.
"When you got a wet winter, our streets deteriorate faster just because of the moisture and that's what we're seeing this winter," LaRon Garrett, town public works engineer, said. "We're working on them as fast as we can to get them patched, but it's kind of hard to patch in the rain."
Maintenance money up
The town has allocated $400,000 and $450,000 last year and this year for a street maintenance program. Previous allocations were in the $200,000 range.
"It's definitely a step in the right direction," Garrett said. "It's more funding than we've had in years."
The money is going to chip and slurry seal streets that aren't so far gone they need to be totally redone. Last year the town sealed about 16 miles and this summer another 15.5 miles are scheduled.
"It's not just chip/slurry," Garrett said. "It also involves getting everything ready for the chip/slurry seal, which (includes) fixing some bad spots, doing a lot of crack sealing, that kind of stuff."
McLane Road slated for 2006
The town also is moving ahead on at least one major street improvement project -- McLane Road from Forest to Airport roads.
"McLane Road is scheduled for fiscal '06," Garrett said. "The money becomes available in October of '05, which means we will probably start construction about (in the spring, 2006). We don't want to start in the wintertime."
Funding will come from two sources, with the town paying half and the other half coming from HURF (Highway User Revenue Fund) exchange funds. Garrett said he hopes the new stretch will be completed by the end of August 2006.
"It will basically be brought up to the same level as it is south of Forest -- three lanes, curb and gutter, sidewalk on one side," he said. "The three-lane section will continue up to Sherwood, and then it'll narrow down to a two-lane section until you get up to Airport, and then it'll go back to three lanes."
The only other new project in the immediate future is a traffic signal at Airport Road and Highway 87. Surveying work is currently under way, and Garrett expects construction to begin in October.
The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) will pay half the cost or $190,000.
Bonita, Airport up next
Down the road, plans include redoing Bonita and St. Phillips streets.
"We've got money coming, but it's quite a ways out yet," Garrett said.
According to Mayor Barbara Brewer, the town recently received a grant to redo Airport Road west of the airport.
"We're getting $1.2 million from the ADOT Aeronautics Division, and we only have to pay $40,000," she said.
But there's no shortage of other long-term projects awaiting funding, including more work on McLane Road.
"We've got room to improve (McLane) similar to what we've already done, at least until you get to Payson Ranchos," Garrett said. "And we should go on south to someday tie into Green Valley Parkway by the rodeo grounds, so you can get back onto 87 at the signal. That would give local residents an alternative to the Beeline Highway, especially on summer weekends."
County keeping disputed funds
The road issue is complicated by a dispute with Gila County over money collected from a half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 1994 for roadway improvements.
According to former mayor Craig Swartwood, it was the town's impression that the county was supposed to share those funds, estimated at $1.4 million annually, but the county has spent the money entirely in unincorporated areas.
During a presentation to the council by the Surface Transportation Advisory Committee late last year, Swartwood recommended attempting to form an alliance with other incorporated communities in Gila County to try and procure a portion of those funds. Garrett said the town has since sent letters to Globe, Hayden, Winkleman and Miami to gauge their interest.
"Verbally (Miami) has told us that they're very interested, but we haven't got any actual written responses back," Garrett said.
While telling the town council it needs to commit $450,000 a year for street capital improvements, the committee said it considered, but rejected, the following options:
- Federal appropriations: Such appropriations are made to the states, which divvy them up. "The trickle-down effect doesn't go quite far enough to reach Payson," Swartwood told the council.
- Arizona Department of Transportation: Federal funds received by ADOT are distributed through the various councils of government, including the Central Arizona Association of Governments. The town of Payson has received more than $1 million from this source in the past five years, with an additional $900,000 allocated for the next three years. "It looks to me like we apply for projects with grant matches that are more expensive than most of our fellow members can afford," Swartwood said.
- Bond issue: Two street improvement bond issues were recently turned down by the voters, and Swartwood believed another bond issue would meet the same fate. The committee recommended a long-term, ongoing voter education program be executed before another bond issue is attempted.
- Sales tax: Based on the results of recent bond issues, the committee opposed asking voters to approve a new sales tax dedicated to street reconstruction. "Our conclusion was the same we reached with the bond issue -- that it's not the proper time nor the desire of the public to raise their taxes to improve streets," Swartwood told the council.
That leaves few options for a need that isn't going away.
"We need to keep working to put more money into rebuilding the streets that need it," Garrett said. "We've got a lot of streets like McLane that have a lot more traffic than they used to have, and we need to get those built up to handle the traffic."
Brewer said the current council is working to find the money to accelerate the town's street improvement program.
"Wherever we can, we want to make use of grant money," she said. "But people need to be patient, because there's other things we need to pay for besides streets."
Top road priorities
In a report to the town council late last year, the Surface Transportation Advisory Committee prioritized roadway improvement projects as follows:
1. Mud Springs Road -- Frontier Elementary School to Highway 260
2. Rumsey Road -- Highway 87 to McLane Road (or Payson Parkway)
3. St. Phillips Street -- Bonita Street to Frontier Street.
4. Bonita Street -- Highway 87 to St. Phillips Street
5. McLane Road -- Forest Drive to Airport Road
6. Manzanita Drive -- Highway 260 to Timber Drive
7. Malibu Drive -- Easy Street to Manzanita Drive
8. Longhorn Road -- Payson Parkway to Green Valley Parkway
9. Phoenix Street -- Highway 87 to Sycamore Street
10. West Frontier Street -- Highway 87 to McLane Road
11. McLane Road -- Airport Road to Houston Mesa Road
12. Mud Springs Road -- Canyon to Alpine Heights (Briarwood Alignment)
13. Vista Road -- Country Club Drive to Airport Road
14. McLane Road -- Main Street to Green Valley Parkway
15. Green Valley Parkway -- Green Valley Park to Highway 87
16. Park Drive -- Mud Springs Road
17. Sutton Road -- Cedar Lane to Granite Dells Road
18. Granite Dells Road -- Highway 260 to Mud Springs Road
19. Granite Dells Road -- Mud Springs Road to Sutton Road
20. Green Valley Parkway -- Green Valley Park to Airport Road
21. Mud Springs Road -- Phoenix Street to Frontier Street
22. South Rim Club Parkway -- Sutton Road to Rim Club Pass
23. Manzanita Drive -- Bonita Street to Highway 260