Traffic Board Shuffles Road Plans

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Forget 20.

Can’t afford 10.

How about seven?

Payson’s fabulous shrinking budget act this week prompted the town’s Surface Transportation Advisory Board (STAB) to trim its street improvement priority list to just seven projects — after learning it could take five or 10 years for the town to work its way down even that shrunken list.

The citizens board that advises the council on traffic concerns started out with a wish list of 20 street projects, but quailed when Public Works Director LaRon Garrett said it would likely take the town 20 years to make all the called for street improvements, which would cost well in excess of $20 million.

Moreover, the only projects likely to make it into next year’s budget are ones in which the state or federal government will come up with the money.

That simple fact earned a No. 1 priority slot for a roundabout on the highway at the intersection of Airport Road, for which the Arizona Department of Transportation will provide three-quarters of the money.

The town council included its 25 percent share in the current fiscal year, almost the only street project to survive the capital projects massacre that helped the council balance the budget in December.

The extension of Mud Springs Road to the highway remains the only other street project likely to make it into the budget next year, in the event the project wins the federal stimulus funding sweepstakes.

That million-dollar project remains at least theoretically in the running for stimulus money, with a decision expected in about a month, said Garrett.

“None of this is going to get done if the money doesn’t come through,” said STAB vice chairman Bruce Van Camp.

“We’re never going to come up with $50 million to get this all done,” he added referring to the original 20-project priority list.

“We need two lists — one is based on need and one on financial feasibility,” said board member Jim Hippel, since neither the roundabout or the Mud Springs extension would otherwise top the STAB committee’s priority list.

Garrett noted that “Mud Springs has a slight chance for getting stimulus money, the rest have no chance.”

So the STAB members shuffled the priorities slightly, then voted to recommend to the council just the top seven road projects on this list. The list includes:

1) Airport Road Roundabout: The roundabout would resemble the one built in front of The Home Depot, allowing drivers to merge onto the highway going either direction without a signal. Studies indicate the accident rates drop sharply in intersections controlled by roundabouts, especially fatal accidents.

However, many drivers in the West say they don’t like roundabouts.

2) Rumsey Drive (Walmart to McLane Road): Widen and reconstruct the road. The project would reduce traffic on Longhorn, Forest Drive, Highway 260 and the busy Highway 87 and 260 intersections. Garrett said the property owner at one time had agreed to repay the town for the design and construction costs when the property eventually was developed.

3) Mud Springs Road (extension from Granite Dells to the highway): The proposal spurred controversy when residents living along Phoenix Street protested the extension might turn their street into a defacto highway bypass. Residents were mollified by a series of traffic committee hearings and recommendations to the council to include $100,000 worth of “traffic calming” measures on top of the million-dollar cost of the extension. Garrett said if the town does get stimulus funding for the extension, it probably wouldn’t cover traffic calming on other streets.

4) Bonita Street (from Bentley to Highway 87): The town had planned to build this project in the current fiscal year, with more than $700,000 in promised HURF gas tax funds from the state. But then the state froze the gas tax funding to balance its budget. Garrett said the project has a “slight” chance for stimulus funding, but only if a second round of funding flows in for road projects. The extension of Mud Springs to Granite Dells more than a year ago reduced traffic on Bonita by about a third.

5)Wade Lane Sidewalk (Meadow to McLane): The school district owns this stretch of frontage between McLane Road and Meadow Street and Longhorn Road and Wade Lane. All the streets in the area have sidewalks except this stretch owned by the district, which poses a potential hazard to students walking to school. The town is applying for a “safe routes to school” grant, but otherwise has no funding.

6) Manzanita Drive (shopping center to Timber Drive): A decade ago, the town paid for a redesign of the deteriorating street, but never had the money for right of way or construction. A developer of an adjacent property had agreed to pay to rebuild the street and had the details plan 80 percent completed, when the housing collapse stalled the project. STAB listed the project as its top priority in 2008, but it has now fallen to seventh place — with no sign of the developer money it would take to actually start work.

7) Colcord Road (Main to Longhorn): The narrow residential street parallels Highway 87 and offers residents a cross-town route when they want to avoid the sometimes gridlocked highway. The state had promised $400,000 in gas tax money to widen the road and put in curbs, gutters and a sidewalk to reduce congestion on the highway, but the state froze all HURF funding when the legislature scooped up the money to balance its budget.

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