The Mud Springs extension roared into town politics like a hungry lion a year ago, but on Tuesday gamboled out like a fuzzy lamb.
The Payson Council unanimously accepted Thursday the traffic advisory committee’s plan to couple any extension of Mud Springs to the highway with a $90,000 mix of stop signs, speed humps and street narrowings to slow traffic on the hilly, round-about back-door route from Highway 87 to Highway 260.
The Surface Transportation Advisory Committee (STAC) recommended a list of traffic calming measures to prevent the eventual extension from creating an informal highway bypass on gridlocked weekends, but suggested the town hold off on a much more restrictive, $300,000 set of changes.
“We just don’t know how large the potential problem could be — or whether there’s one at all,” said STAC chairman Tom Loeffler.
The council barely discussed the core recommendations to resolve an issue that a year ago caused repeated angry, overflowing public meetings and played a prominent role in a mayor’s race. Most of the discussion centered on how to add a trail and bike path along key stretches of Phoenix Street and Mud Springs without gobbling up all the on-street parking.
The council has adopted an ambitious Payson Area Trails System (PATS) master plan, which would create a network of trails connected to the extensive Forest Service trail system outside the town limits. The roller coaster meanders of Phoenix Street could provide a key link in the overall system.
Loeffler said the STAC committee couldn’t figure out how to fit a safe bike path without eliminating on-street parking — a option that upset many residents.
“Placing PATS on the existing part of the paved road would eliminate parking on both sides of the street and residents were not willing to accept this solution,” said Loeffler.
However, council members rallied behind some sort of trail — even if it shifted from Phoenix Street to the nearby boundary between town land and the Tonto Apache reservation land.
“PATS can do wonderful things,” said Councilor Su Connell, “I don’t want it to be stymied. We can’t let the PATS system get shelved.”
The town council weeks ago eliminated current funding for the trails system to adjust to falling sales tax and building fee revenue.
Moreover, Public Works Director LeRon Garrett noted Thursday night that the town doesn’t even have the money this year to patch growing cracks in several key streets.
After a discussion, the council accepted the rest of STAC’s recommendations.
The proposal would slow traffic if the council eventually approves the $1-million project to extend Mud Springs from where it ends in a roundabout at Granite Dells to the highway opposite Gila Community College.
Instead, the plan features a handful of changes to slow down traffic, including a $28,000 raised, lighted crosswalk near Frontier Elementary School, an $18,000 center island on Mud Springs Road west of the intersection with Phoenix Street and a $31,000 set of curbs, barriers and striping to narrow the street along two stretches of Phoenix Street.
Residents living along Phoenix Street feared the extension would lure drivers trying to bypass downtown during heavy traffic periods.
STAC’s proposal would hold in reserve most of the most restrictive options, like road narrowings and barriers to prevent people from turning off the highway.