In an ongoing effort to make northern Gila County roads safer, the Arizona Department of Transportation is moving ahead with plans to expand Highway 260 to four lanes to Heber and will start widening parts of Highway 87 to Pine where a number of accidents have occurred on the winding, narrow road.
ADOT engineers answered questions and explained various road projects under way and those that should start within a year at a recent Citizens Awareness Committee meeting at the library.
Community members got a chance to sound off on the proposed roadway projects and suggest new ones, such as installing a no turn on red sign at the intersection of Highways 260 and 87.
Thomas Goodman, a senior resident engineer with ADOT, said he would pass all ideas along to Phoenix engineers.
Among the projects set to start in early June is widening two sections of roadway from Payson to Pine.
Starting from The Home Depot roundabout north a mile and from Pine south a mile, crews will blast the shoulders, widen the road, add new guardrails, signs and turn lanes.
Motorists can expect to see delays throughout the summer on the roadway with the road closed during blasting. When not blasting, the road will open to one lane of traffic with cars shuffled through the corridor with a pilot car, Goodman said.
The project should be completed in December 2009 and is estimated to cost $3.7 million.
In the same section of roadway, ADOT crews will install a new, 26-mile fence starting in July. The project is to keep cattle off the roadway and is federally funded. Construction should start in July.
Heading north from Pine to the Rim, 10 miles of highway will be repaved, costing $5.5 million. ADOT will advertise the project for bids in November.
In Payson, design plans are in the works to build a roundabout at the intersection of Airport Road and Highway 87.
Goodman said plans are 60 percent complete and they should send the project out for bids in the fall.
ADOT considered placing a light at the intersection, but the town requested a roundabout two years ago. The joint project should cost the town and ADOT around $300,000 each.
Along with installing a new roundabout in town, ADOT crews will make improvements to The Home Depot roundabout, “to get southbound cars to slow down,” Goodman said.
Two projects well under way and expected to be finished this September, are the Oxbow Hill and landslide area.
Several months ago, crews began widening the southbound lanes north of Rye. The road will be repaved next week, and when finished, will include two, 12-foot lanes and four- and 10-foot shoulders on each side.
According to ADOT data, the narrow section of roadway was one of the high accident areas in the state.
Further, south of town, near Fountain Hills, crews will widen the southbound lanes and add a climbing lane beginning at Four Peaks Road.
From milepost 206 to 209, the roadway will be widened and the additional lane added to reduce accidents and increase the roads functionality, ADOT states. The project is expected to begin between fall 2010 and spring 2011.
An ongoing improvement project along Highway 260 will continue into this year with another section of the roadway widened to four lanes.
Eventually the highway from Payson to Heber will be four lanes, complete with dozens of elk crossings.
Three, four-mile sections of the roadway have already been completed with the construction price tag of $30 million or more per section.
The next project ADOT plans to start this September is in the Little Green Valley, starting around milepost 263. Contractors began bidding on the project two weeks ago and it should cost around $38 million.
After the Little Green Valley section is complete, crews will move on to Doubtful Canyon where five concrete bridges are proposed along with the widening. This section should run around $22 million.
Several citizens asked why ADOT did not do the whole roadway at one time instead of in sections.
Arizona Game and Fish Research Biologist Jeff Gagnon explained they expanded the sections of roadway with the most elk collisions first.
One of these areas was Preacher Canyon were Game and Fish installed an “elk crosswalk.”
The crosswalk works with a system of cameras that detect wildlife in the area and alerts motorists with flashing lights and signs.
According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, there has been a 96 percent reduction in wildlife-vehicle collisions since the crosswalks installation. Furthermore, motorists reduce their speeds by 8 to 10 mph when the signs are activated.
“In the first two years of the project, the benefits of it have exceeded the cost,” Gagnon said. “Plus people are not getting hit or hurt.”
The Western Transportation Institute estimated that on average it costs $18,500 for every elk that is hit. This includes damages to a car, people and the cost to remove the elk.
With the success of the crosswalk, ADOT is planning to improve the project with a new ElectroBraid Fence Crosswalk or Electromat.
The system works like an electrified scale. If an elk tries to walk north of the designated crosswalk area, they will step on a mat with a small current running through. This will deliver a shock to the animal sending it back to the crosswalk and off the road.
The current is not strong enough to shock anyone wearing shoes, Goodman said.
The research project, run and funded by cooperation between the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the U.S. Forest Service and ADOT, will help engineers evaluate what systems work to minimize wildlife collisions on state highways. The program is scheduled to end 2015.
Call 511 or visit www.az511.gov for the latest updates on highway conditions across Arizona.