Irate homeowners created a stir at the normally quiet meeting of Payson's Surface Transportation Advisory Committee by presenting petitions with the names of more than 177 people "strongly opposed" to extending Mud Spring Road to a connection with Highway 260.
Half a dozen people who mostly live along Phoenix Street prompted a record-long committee meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 9 by politely, but adamantly, opposing the committee's number one priority for improving traffic circulation in the town -- a $1-million extension of Mud Springs to a proposed highway roundabout that would provide easier access to the highway for landlocked neighborhoods.
The committee had recommended the road extension to the council early last year and the council last May approved the plan over the objections of Payson Mayor Bob Edwards, who lives in the neighborhood.
Edwards has continued to drum up opposition to the extension. In a December e-mail newsletter, he urged residents to protest the proposed project.
Nonetheless, transportation committee members still strongly support the extension.
"It's going to relieve a lot of our local traffic and help people get around town," said outgoing Committee Chairman Bruce Van Camp.
The Mayor's e-mail did prompt several homeowners to gather signatures from residents living in the area, citing concerns that many drivers will use an extended, widened Mud Springs Road to get from Highway 87 to Highway 260 by looping through the residential neighborhood and past the school.
Joni King went door to door in the Rimview neighborhood and got 104 signatures on her petitions. Only four residents didn't want to sign, she said.
In addition, Deerborn Drive resident Shirley Dye gathered 73 signatures.
King said traffic has increased dramatically already in the 21 months she's lived on the street.
"We don't have to speculate whether people will use it" when Mud Springs connects to Highway 260. "They're using it now. And you're right, shame on us residents for not knowing about the plan. But we know about it now. So you have all these names on a petition -- are you going to ignore us now?"
Resident Kathy Baas said traffic studies show that people already drive an average of about 38 miles an hour on Phoenix Street, despite a posted speed limit of 25. She said the town should find a way to slow down traffic with striping and speed bumps before even considering new street connections that will further increase traffic and perhaps turn the route into a way for highway traffic to bypass the congested connection between highways 87 and 260.
"Let's look at the whole picture instead of just approving a piece of it," said King.
The committee members said that although they will consider changes to slow down traffic on Phoenix Street, the Mud Springs extension has already been approved by both the committee and the town council.
"This committee could do a service by going back and looking at traffic-calming measures. There are ways to control the speed on any road," said incoming committee chair Tom Loeffler. Loeffler is a candidate for a Town Council position and is aligned with Mayor Edwards.
Most committee members remained convinced the Mud Springs extension will ease traffic congestion on surface streets for the whole southeast quadrant of the town, where residents must trickle up to Highway 260 along indirect surface streets or turn onto the busy highway to go north before heading east.
Van Camp said the improved circulation would be a great boon to many neighborhoods and that the proposed street widening and traffic control measures would mitigate impacts on homeowners.
"I can guarantee this won't become a trucker bypass of Payson," said Van Camp after the meeting.
He said the sudden development of homeowner protests has a lot to do with the current election.
"Somebody is pushing this because there's an election coming up. This thing has been a done deal for eight years," said Van Camp.
"People are adamant about opposing this," said King.
"The town has a valid point saying it has been in the plan for a long time. But we don't necessarily look at the 20-year plan when we buy a house. This is my retirement dream home and I have my life savings in it -- and I had no idea they were doing this. I find it faulty logic to take an action that creates a problem and then try to mitigate the effects of the problem you've created."