Do the residents of Payson want a bypass? Judging by the 30 people who attended the latest Arizona Department of Transportation meeting Thursday afternoon, the answer is a resounding “yes.”
Resident and longtime proponent of a bypass Dan Adams informally posed the question to a group of residents who gathered for the Citizens Awareness Committee meeting, and all but one raised their hands in support of the bypass.
After the vote, one resident comically asked if they could all go home now.
Ken Volz, director of the Northern Gila County Economic Development Corporation quickly pointed out that this small segment of the population does not represent key stakeholders in the bypass debate, including business owners, none of whom were present at the meeting.
Adams acknowledged this fact and asked that everyone in favor of the bypass present and absent let ADOT know by writing a letter or sending an e-mail.
“We don’t need a roundabout,” he said, “we need a way to move them (out-of-town drivers) around us. The more people who complain to ADOT, the quicker this gets done.”
For years, residents and out-of-town drivers have complained about the long lines through Payson on the weekends, especially holidays when wait times exceed 30 minutes.
Anyone who drives through town on the weekends knows that the intersection of Highways 87 and 260 is the worst, with some 22,000 cars going through it per day.
Proponents of a bypass maintain it would direct traffic headed to Heber-Overgaard or the White Mountains away from Payson. Most of these drivers don’t stop in Payson anyway.
However, others say a bypass may not be the answer because it could hurt the local economy by taking away valuable motorists who stop at shops and restaurants.
One woman at the meeting said she was on the fence for a bypass based on this concern.
“You need to be careful what you wish for,” she said, referencing the possible negative effects.
Rick Powers, consultant with Jacobs Engineering, said he was happy to hear all of the opinions and would take them back to ADOT.
Since January, ADOT and the Town of Payson have been conducting a long-range study to explore transportation options. The plan will be completed by mid 2010 and contain a “wish list” for the next 20 years. It will include road-widening, public transit, bypass, bike lanes and sidewalk options.
It is clear from the data, Powers said, that Payson needs to do something, or by 2030, most of Payson’s main roads will have severe congestion.
ADOT estimates that by 2030, the number of cars on the road could increase by 64 percent to 36,000. This is due in part because Payson’s population is expected to increase by at least 30 percent in the next 20 years.
“Traffic volumes will continue to grow like a fungus,” Powers said.
Besides an alternative highway route, there are other options to battle congestion, like more roundabouts and signals or widening of key intersections, like Highways 260 and 87. The current study will analyze these options and their feasibility.
However, the study will not offer quick solutions, recommend exact alignments (for the bypass or new roads), provide funding or conduct detailed environmental analysis, Powers said.
Once ADOT completes the rough draft of the transportation improvement plan, they will bring it to the public for comment.
In the meantime, residents can offer their opinions by contacting ADOT Project Manager Dianne Kresich at (602) 712-7961.