Adot To Pay For Study Of Alternate Highway Route

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The Rim Country's long-considered alternate route inched forward last week when the Payson Town Council adopted a resolution Thursday, Dec. 14, to conduct a planning study of the traffic diversion that could alleviate in-town traffic.

The Arizona Department of Transportation will pay for this feasibility study, which is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2007.

Once the study begins, it could be up to a year before policymakers in the Rim Country know whether the project will move forward.

Chairwoman of the mayor's alternate route task force Chris Tilley and councilor Ed Blair have served as stewards of the alternate route project since this past summer. Tilley and Blair met with the head of ADOT's planning division, Dale Buskirk, in early December to lobby the agency to consider the project.

ADOT rewarded the effort when it agreed to pay for the in-house feasibility study.

Payson's leaders have tossed around the alternate-route idea for years. The first study was conducted in 1989, a second was presented 10 years later.

Preliminary plans include the redirecting of vehicles from the traffic jams of highways 87 and 260. The bypass will begin miles south of Mazatzal Casino, wind through the Tonto National Forest and end east of Star Valley onto Highway 260.

Over the years, summer traffic has clogged the highway as far back as Rye.

LaRon Garrett, the town's public works engineer, said his department estimated as many as 35,000 cars a day pass through Payson during peak season.

ADOT chooses projects on a five-year plan mandated by state statute called the Transportation Facilities Construction Program. Proposals from around the state are submitted to the seven-member, governor-appointed State Transportation Board.

The panel reviews and selects the projects based on priority, taking into consideration traffic flows, available funding and public support.

The estimated 10 miles of roadway could cost approximately $20 million per mile according to current market value, said Garrett.

And ADOT's budget allocation -- comprised of gas tax and car registration fees -- to rural Arizona amounts to $67 million annually. Progress is a matter of identifying new funding sources and rallying public support.

After the results of the study are returned, Town Manager Fred Carpenter said, the town will have to convince the State Transportation Board to fund an additional study. If approved, the report could take up to three years and over $1 million to complete. Blair said Payson is on hold until the State Transportation Board comes back with a decision. Meanwhile, Blair attributed the progress made on the alternate route plan to the task force.

"It's something that many longtime residents have indicated should have been done decades ago," he said. Tilley and Blair will offer presentations to any interested civic group. For more information, contact Tilley at tilleyc@hotmail.com.

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