Payson Bypass Effort Has Adot's Attention

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With all the attention Payson is paying to its traffic congestion and the area's need for an alternate route, the Arizona Department of Transportation is taking notice.

But Berwyn Wilbrink, of internationally renowned Jacobs Engineering Group, said catching ADOT's attention is a fragment of the bureaucracy involved in securing a highway project.

"It's costly," Wilbrink said during a presentation at the Oct. 4 Payson Town Council meeting. "Once the money for the study is available, that's when the project begins."

Although he's not a representative of ADOT, Wilbrink has served as a project engineer on several highway-improvement projects, most notably the Highway 260 widening, the Wickenburg bypass and upgrades to Highway 93 -- the shortest route between Phoenix and Las Vegas.

Gaining the attention of the district engineer generates the initial interest of the agency. Payson is in the Prescott District so it competes for funding among five other counties: Yavapai, La Paz, Navajo, Coconino and a small slice of Maricopa.

Projects are prioritized regionally and sent to the Arizona State Transportation Board for further consideration.

According to ADOT policy, a statute called the Priority Program Law dictates the transportation board's approval and funding process.

The board takes into consideration, among other issues, public, commercial, professional and local government input, safety and traffic statistics and feasibility studies -- sometimes funded by municipalities to show good faith.

Although ADOT will provide dollars for some studies, Wilbrink said a financial investment, community support and a legislative voice makes a difference.

"ADOT's not willing to spend money in a place where it is not desired," Wilbrink said. "The state doesn't want to be perceived as pushing something down your throat."

The transportation board establishes priorities for its five-year plan. Even if the Rim Country's alternate bypass route made it into the 2007 rotation, the study probably wouldn't get under way until 2012. A feasibility study starts with a round of public input called "scoping." Citizens sit down and compromise. They identify constraints, such as environmental and engineering issues, refine plans and figure out a route. Once that's completed, a scoping document is issued.

When those decisions are made, the community plots a corridor. A litany of studies follows -- reports covering everything from the socioeconomic impact to the biological consequences of the project.

To allay the concerns of business owners, ADOT questions drivers passing through the affected area.

"They stop cars outside the community and fill out forms," Wilbrink said. "It asks them where they were, where they are coming from. It helps them determine the economic impacts to the community."

From start to finish, including the studies, waiting time and construction, a project of this size could take up to 20 years to complete.

The mayor's alternate route bypass task force will continue to hold meetings and rally public, commercial and legislative support for the bypass.

To get involved in the bypass route task force, contact Chris Tilley at (928) 468-9669.

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