Mud Springs: A Quiet Resolution For A Once Furious Road Debate

Few residents show up to hear Payson traffic committee’s near-final list of traffic-slowing ideas for extended road

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Ah, what a difference six months makes — not to mention a budget crisis and enough meetings to tranquilize a tiger.

Perhaps that’s why things went so smoothly on Wednesday when the once incendiary topic of extending Mud Springs Road to connect with Highway 260 came back before Payson’s Surface Traffic Advisory Committee (STAC).

The STAC members listened quietly to Town Public Works Director LaRon Garrett detail his suggestions for about a dozen changes designed to slow down traffic on Phoenix Street and an extended Mud Springs.

The STAC committee largely accepted Garrett’s recommendations and scheduled a Nov. 12 open house session from 4 to 8 p.m. at town hall to explain the plan to anyone who’s interested.

After that meeting, the committee will finalize its recommendations to the council. The town council has previously said it would put in the traffic slowing measures on Phoenix Street as part of the project to extend Mud Springs, which has been delayed indefinitely due to budget problems.

On Wednesday, the people who did crowd the room were actually all waiting for the town’s latest road-building crisis — the possible extension of Sherwood Drive to connect to Airport Road.

The near-final resolution of the Mud Springs debate that spurred heated hearings and tilted the mayoral race drew only the indefatigable Shirley Dye, who has fought against the extension from the beginning.

And when she spoke to summarize the views of people living in homeowners associations along what some residents fear would become a de facto freeway bypass, she mostly opposed the most inconvenient of the traffic-slowing ideas — like speed humps and traffic circles.

Dye said most residents along Phoenix Street still don’t want Mud Springs extended from the current roundabout connection with Granite Dells, but seem otherwise satisfied with the striping, street narrowings, added stop signs and raised crosswalks featured in the latest plan.

Dye said many residents do want more stop signs, but Garrett noted that stop signs can’t be used by law as a device to slow traffic — only to control intersections that meet certain criteria.

The urgency with which many residents resisted the proposed extension dwindled earlier this year when the $800,000 project died in the budget slaughter of capital improvement projects.

The extension of Mud Springs had been listed as the top street priority in town and slated for construction in the current fiscal year. However, the STAC committee dropped Mud Springs to number four priority. Moreover, last year’s revenue came in about 10 percent behind expectations — consuming the reserves and prompting the council to cancel most street building projects for the current fiscal year. As a result, town officials say they have no idea when the Mud Springs extension might actually get built.

In the meantime, connecting Mud Springs to Granite Dells, which jogs over to the highway, hasn’t apparently lured many people off the highway through the residential neighborhoods seeking a shortcut, said several people at the meeting.

Garrett said that the first tier options in the bundle of traffic-calming changes he’s proposing would add about $100,000 to $200,000 to the eventual cost of the Mud Springs extension.

He organized the list of options into three tiers, each more restrictive. The committee predicted that residents would revolt if the town actually put in any of the second and third tier options, which included things like physically narrowing streets, putting in traffic islands to force people onto different streets and preventing people from turning onto either end of the route from the highway.

The much less restrictive options Garrett recommended and the committee seemed to largely favor would do less to restrict traffic flow. About half of the traffic-slowing measures listed among the 14 items in the first tier already exist. Many of the rest involve painting new stripes on the street to make the road seem narrower, which would make drivers slow down.

The major added features included:

• Putting just a stop sign at the new intersection of Mud Springs and Highway 260 instead of the roundabout preferred by the Arizona Department of Transportation. A traffic study suggested that the route won’t draw enough traffic to justify a signal.

• Narrowing Mud Springs with striping just north of the planned site of the Payson Christian School.

• Installing a raised crosswalk that would function as a giant speed hump, complete with embedded flashing lights, near Frontier Elementary School.

• Construct a center island on Phoenix Street just before the intersection with Mud Springs to slow traffic approaching the existing four-way stop.

• Install a bike lane and shift parking from one side of the street to the other in a stretch of Phoenix Street coming down the hill, mostly because in that section the bike path can’t be shifted to the sidewalk.

• Build a traffic circle at the intersection of Phoenix Street and Promontory Point.

• Build a traffic circle at the intersection of Phoenix Street and Elk Ridge Drive.

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