The long-suffering debate on the proposed extension of Mud Springs Road took an unexpected turn when an expert drafted by critics said the extended road will probably generate so little traffic there's no need for a signal or roundabout where it would hit Highway 260.
The observations by traffic engineer Robert Bleyhl provided a surprise ending to the latest meeting of the Surface Transportation Advisory Committee (STAC). The committee spent most of the meeting pulling together residents' comments on how to limit and slow traffic on Phoenix Street and Mud Springs, which critics fear will become a defacto highway bypass.
Bleyhl's guessed that the proposed extension of Mud Springs to the highway won't generate much more than the estimated 1,100 cars a day already driving up to the end of Mud Springs and turning onto Granite Dells to dogleg to the highway. Although connecting Mud Springs to Granite Dells apparently tripled traffic loads, it has, so far, fallen far short of the nightmare projections of opponents of the extension.
The issue has stimulated at least two emotional hearings before the town council, several neighborhood meetings and a previous STAC study session to gather detailed suggestions from residents on how to keep the route from essentially becoming a highway bypass on weekends.
STAC Chairman Tom Loeffler promised skeptical residents that the committee will do everything possible to make the extended street safe. "My intent is to try to work at a solution in an intelligent, logical and factual way. I'm trying to keep emotions out of that."
Town Engineer LaRon Garrett presented a summary of suggestions for controlling traffic on Mud Springs and Phoenix Streets.
Although many residents had hoped that gates or signs might keep people from turning off the highway onto Phoenix Street or Mud Springs on the weekends, Garrett said ADOT would not approve such potentially confusing, time limiting restrictions.
Many suggestions also focused on signs limiting the streets to "local traffic." But Garrett said that restriction was virtually unenforceable, although it might deter the drivers of semis and large commercial trucks.
So that mostly left on the list an array of "traffic calming" measures, like striping, narrowing of the street, traffic humps and raised intersections -- all of which would slow drivers, but wouldn't likely have a big impact on how many people turned onto the street from the highway.
ADOT has told Payson that if Mud Springs connects, it would probably need a roundabout like the roundabout on Highway 87 north of town. Garrett noted that there have been 30 accidents in the past year where the northern continuation of Mud Springs turns off the highway and leads to the community college. He added that the town is currently doing a required traffic study that includes accidents, traffic and projected impact on highway traffic flow, which ADOT will use to base its final decision on concerning the roundabout
The prospect of the roundabout provoked the most surprising comments of the afternoon, when the traffic consultant offered up by some of the homeowners downplayed the need for a roundabout by arguing the extension won't carry a lot of traffic.
Bleyhl, a former traffic engineer for the state of Utah who also taught traffic engineering at various universities for 16 years, said a roundabout would slow traffic on the highway to solve a non-existent problem.
He predicted that the extension of Mud Springs wouldn't generate many more cars than now drive up Mud Springs and turn onto Granite Dells to connect to the highway at the existing signal. People who want to turn right onto the highway would continue up Mud Springs. People who want to turn left would jog over on Granite Dells to the existing signal.
Therefore, the extended Mud Springs would not produce enough traffic to justify slowing the 25,000 cars per day using the highway. He said he'd driven the hilly, narrow indirect route between the highways along Phoenix Street and Mud Springs and doubted many drivers would leave the highway for that route -- which is the key contention of the critics of the extension.