After a year of struggle and stress, Payson’s traffic committee on Wednesday will recommend to the town council a $100,000 list of curbs, stop signs, raised crosswalks and center islands to ensure an extended Mud Springs Road doesn’t become an informal highway bypass.
The Surface Transportation Advisory Committee (STAC) whittled down about $450,000 worth of changes to slow or divert traffic from Mud Springs Road and Phoenix Street, putting aside drastic changes like blocking off connections to the highway in favor of modest, traffic-slowing fixes.
The changes embraced by STAC included a $28,000 raised, speed-hump crosswalk with warning lights in front of Frontier Elementary School, an $18,000 center island to keep people from making a dangerous turn at Mud Springs Road west of Phoenix Street, and about $50,000 worth of new curbs, reflectors, stop signs and striping to narrow the street and slow drivers at four points along the long, indirect route between the two highways.
STAC recommended the council include those measures in the budget for the eventual extension of Mud Springs to Highway 260 — providing traffic studies after the extension is completed show a problem actually exists.
If traffic speed and volume becomes a problem and the level-one measures don’t work, the committee provided a second and third tier of options, each of which would slow and divert traffic dramatically, at the cost of inconveniencing people using those streets all week long.
“If these changes don’t solve it, then go to the next level,” said STAC Chairman Tom Loeffler. “And if that doesn’t solve it, go to the third level. And if that doesn’t solve it, then I guess we should just close the road and go home.”
In contrast to the angry, overflow crowds the proposal to extend Mud Springs drew in the beginning, the climactic STAC meeting this week drew only the indefatigable Shirley Dye. She supported the minimalist approach and spoke against the most expensive and restrictive options.
“You have killed part of the overkill on this,” she said in supporting the committee’s decision to drop two proposed traffic circles costing $71,000 each in favor of stop signs and new curbs to narrow the street and slow drivers — at a cost of $11,500 per narrowing.
The proposal to extend Mud Springs from the roundabout where it now connects to Granite Dells straight through to Highway 87 caused an outcry by people living along Phoenix Street that upended town politics. The town council tossed the flaming potato to STAC, with instructions to hold hearings and recommend “traffic calming” measures. The goal was to prevent gridlocked weekend drivers from turning the route into a dangerous traffic jam trying to bypass the highway.
Public Works Director LaRon Garrett came up with a three-tiered list, ranging from $11,000 street narrowings to make people slow down, to $71,000 traffic circles and barriers that would prevent people from turning onto Mud Springs or Phoenix Street from the highway.
A series of public hearings revealed a wide and contradictory range of opinions with almost equal numbers approving or criticizing each of the proposed measures.
However, the attendance and passion at the hearings dropped steadily in the course of the past year. Various homeowners associations along the route debated and then generally approved the less restrictive options.
In addition, traffic counts showed that the number of cars on the street didn’t change after Mud Springs was extended to connect to Granite Dells. This essentially created the feared “bypass” — with an extra jog down Granite Dells to the stoplight at the highway near Safeway.
Finally, the town floundered into the economic sinkhole of declining revenue from sales tax and building fees. The town council postponed indefinitely the proposed million-dollar extension of Mud Springs, along with all other pending street improvement projects. Although the Mud Springs extension remains high on the road-building priority list, town officials have no idea when the projects will be resumed.
The committee wrestled with how to make a firm recommendation to solve a problem that might not exist — depending on what happens to traffic on Phoenix Street when Mud Springs finally connects directly to the highway. Most of the committee members suggested the route will never become a bypass — even without any of the traffic calming measures.
On the other hand, they worried about what would happen if the extension did provoke a flood of drivers trying to get off the bumper-to-bumper highway and the money for the traffic control measures wasn’t included in the budget.
“Until we actually have the problem, it’s hard to know what to recommend,” said committee member Bruce VanCamp. “We would say, ‘If we have a problem, this will do the job.’ But this is a lot of money here and I can’t see us recommending anything except putting this aside until we see what we’ve got. If a problem develops, we can jump on it.”
“We’re trying to have vision,” said committee member Bob Dalby, “and I find my vision very poor,” in predicting future traffic problems.
Dalby was one of the homeowners who protested the extension, and his nomination to the board provoked opposition. He promised not to vote on the extension, but participated in the discussions on the traffic calming measures and helped explain the plan to homeowners and resident concerns to STAC.
Loeffler noted, “I want to reassure the public that we have measures in place that will prevent this from becoming a bypass. And all these things might not go in, but we have to use our best judgment as to what the possibilities are.”
In the end, STAC voted to recommend that the council include $100,000 for the slimmed down list of measures to slow traffic along with the budget for extending Mud Springs — but not actually put in the measures unless traffic studies after the extension is completed, show that a problem has developed.
The committee voted 5-0, with Dalby abstaining.