Would a highway bypass solve Payson’s weekend traffic problems — but kill off vulnerable businesses?
Should Payson develop wider, arterial streets paralleling the highway with higher speed limits?
Will traffic congestion ruin Payson’s small-town feel if the population doubles?
Community leaders last week got a chance to sound off on all those issues and more during a series of meetings with consultants just starting an overhaul of the town’s traffic plan.
Payson won a rare federal grant to pay several hundred thousand dollars to undertake a study of existing traffic patterns, as a way to predict future traffic problems. A consulting firm hired by the Arizona Department of Transportation will conduct the study in the course of the next 18 months or so, said ADOT public information officer Bill Williams.
The consultant last week had an introductory session with the town’s traffic advisory committee, members of the town council, representatives of the Tonto Apache Tribe, the chamber of commerce, the Payson Unified School District and the Tonto National Forest, trying gather input on the area’s pressing traffic concerns.
One key question the study will tackle will be whether the community as a whole supports the eventual construction of a new connection between Highway 87 and Highway 260 that would divert the bulk of the cars heading up the hill from the Valley, bound for the White Mountains.
“The study won’t deal with the cost or the route on a map, but will determine whether the community wants it,” said Williams.
The study will likely play a major role in an update of the transportation element of the general plan, which plays a crucial role in accommodating development and avoiding bottlenecks and gridlock.
“We are at a critical point,” said Williams, “especially when it comes to gridlock on the highway during holiday weekends.”
The town did a study before adopting the existing plan, which was in turn based mostly on traffic studies and projections dating back to the mid 1990s. That study measured actual traffic volumes on many streets then made some predictions about how additional growth would affect traffic flow in the future.
That plan generally favored the development of a system of major, arterial streets — often paralleling the highways that bisect the town. Those arterial streets are generally wider with higher speed limits, sometimes 35 miles an hour or higher. In theory, that network of busy streets will drain the traffic from the narrower, slower, twisty residential streets — while moving traffic more efficiently throughout town.