Holiday traffic backed up all the way through Payson Monday as lines of travelers hauling boats, trailers and ATVs ran the stoplight gauntlet.
Some weekenders reported it took 45 minutes of bumper-to-bumper traffic down the hill to get into town on Saturday. The backup started south of the casino and carried all the way through to Highway 260 and out to Little Green Valley.
Businesses reported good crowds and a minimum of problems, but residents mostly avoided coming into town.
However, if you thought this Labor Day weekend traffic was bad, by 2030 the number of cars on the road is expected to increase by 64 percent to 36,000.
In addition, Payson’s population is expected to grow at least 30 percent in the next 20 years.
How will Rim roads accommodate the crush? Ideas discussed at a recent Arizona Department of Transportation forum include an alternative highway route, more roundabouts or signals, and widening of key intersections, like Highways 260 and 87.
Since January, the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and Payson have been conducting a long-range study to explore the options. By mid 2010, the study will have developed a 20-year plan that includes road-widening, public transit, bike lanes and sidewalks.
Dianne Kresich, ADOT project manager, gave an overview of the study last Wednesday night to a group of citizens at the Payson Public Library.
Kresich was quick to point out that the study will not offer quick solutions, recommend exact alignments (for the bypass or new roads), provide funding or conduct detailed environmental analysis.
But it has already identified transportation deficiencies.
Among those, engineers discovered most of Payson’s roads and bridges are in fair or good condition. However, the good news ends there.
Several roads are in very poor condition, such as Manzanita Drive and Bonita Street. Moreover, Easy Street is too narrow.
A number of intersections have high crash rates. The highest is Highway 260 and Manzanita Drive followed by Highways 87 and 260. The most dangerous stretch of road is Highway 87 between Bonita Street and Highway 260, with 69 percent of all accidents on the highways.
Of the 1,147 crashes in the past five years, 59 percent took place at intersections or near driveways.
“If no improvements are made, the system breaks down,” said Rick Powers with Jacobs Engineering.
Currently, as most motorists know, the intersection of Highways 87 and 260 gets congested on the weekends, with some 22,000 cars going through it per day.
“Without improvements, it will get worse and it is pretty bad today,” Powers said.
Kresich added that on top of congestion, flooding affects Main Street at Highway 87 and Airport Road at Highway 87.
On top of all that, the town has a whole list of other needed improvements, including roadway connectivity, school bus pull-outs, improved walking and biking trails and crosswalks, improved aesthetics along the highways and an emergency evacuation plan and routes.
With all of the needs outlined, Kresich said their next task is coming up with solutions.
Once they have the rough draft of the transportation improvement plan complete, they bring it to the public for comment.
At Wednesday’s meeting, resident Dan Adams said he would like to see a bypass, but has been frustrated with the pace of creating one.
Kresich pointed out that it would take several years of study before a bypass would come to fruition.
Payson Councilor Ed Blair said he would like to see a bypass project begin soon.
“The process is slow, so I understand that citizens get frustrated,” Kresich said. In this study, “we are going to suggest a corridor, but not set an alignment.”
The Federal Highway Administration, through the ADOT Planning Assistance for Rural Areas program, funds the study.