Traffic Committee Loves The Bypass, Hates The Name

Dumping controversial label key to enlisting public support say alternative route supporters

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What's in a name?

Well -- quite a bit, it seems.

Payson's Surface Transportation Advisory Board last week found itself struggling to banish the word "bypass" from its vocabulary -- now that they're hoping to convince residents to undertake the grueling job of convincing the state to build a highway cutoff.

The board voiced strong support for the idea of a highway spur that headed north from Highway 87 just east of Payson, crossed some 20 miles of Forest Service land, and connected to Highway 260 just east of Star Valley.

However, the board members suggested that keeping the public on board might take a lot of work -- and a new vocabulary.

The idea of a "bypass" got a lot of headlines about a year ago, but it also spurred some opposition in the business community. Currently, roughly 35,000 cars a day clog the highway going through town, especially on peak summer weekends. Supporters of the cutoff say the route would divert trucks and people rushing to the White Mountains. Critics, say it might further reduce the business of hard-pressed local firms.

The town council passed a resolution favoring the cutoff or alternate route more than a year ago, but Arizona Department of Transportation officials said that they also heard from people opposed to the bypass, which played some role in ADOT's lack of action on the council resolution.

So last week the council adopted essentially the same ordinance, calling on ADOT to launch a feasibility study of the route.

However, advocates for the cutoff, like newly appointed STAC member Christine Tilley, said residents have to campaign to convince ADOT the whole town is behind the idea now.

The current idea for a bypass or alternate route would require Star Valley and Payson to annex the mostly Forest Service land on which it would be built and to using zoning restrictions to prevent the development of any commercial business along the alternate route. That way, anyone who needed gas, food or supplies would still have to come into town to shop.

STAC members at the April 2 meeting all seemed to agree on the need for the route and the importance of not calling it a "bypass," even though most of them slipped repeatedly and used the forbidden word during the discussion.

"Calling it bypass (rather than alternate route) creates opposition we don't need," said committee member Jack Jasper.

In effect, the committee declared the term "bypass" passé.

The alternative route was first mentioned to ADOT 15 years ago and about a year ago, ADOT agreed to launch a study after the Payson council passed a resolution in support.

However, the ADOT study got absorbed by a much larger effort to plan major highway improvements through the state for the next 30 to 50 years, said ADOT engineer Dallas Hammit.

Last week he told the Town Council that the bypass isn't in the current five-year plan and would face tough competition for funding. He suggested the council finance its own feasibility study -- and suggested that unified community support would play a key role. However, he also noted that even if everything went smoothly, it would take a least a decade to actually build such a road.

That means STAC has a long road ahead.

STAC members seemed eager to get the project off the ground and willing to pursue whatever action necessary.

"We have to start rattling some cages," said Chairman Tom Loeffler.

The committee members said they understood the business owners' apprehensions

After all, "the businesses in town are owned by our friends and neighbors," said Chris Tilley. "But we can't wait 10 more years to begin a 20-year project."

Jasper said the key to enlisting public support was to get rid of the word "bypass," which called to mind images of near ghost towns like Seligman and Ash Fork, which all but died off after Interstate 40 bypassed many towns along the old Route 66.

By contrast, Yuma fought a plan to divert most of the traffic on Interstate 8 around the town, but found that business actually increased when congestion cleared up. Likewise, Wickenburg pushed for years to get a route that would enable truckers and long-distance drivers to skip driving through the middle of town.

"We have to convince people -- call it a truck route or an alternate route -- and point out it will get a lot of this truck traffic and RV traffic out of here," said Jasper.

Tilley said that studies of the effect of such bypasses or alternate routes shows that they can be hard on towns struggling economically, but prove an advantage for towns with an otherwise strong economy. "So I am not worried about the effect (on Payson businesses) at all."

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