Forget the beleaguered highway — not much hope there.
But how you gonna get around town even when Payson’s population soars and gridlock becomes routine at the intersection of Highways 87 and 260?
The debate about whether Payson needs a highway bypass has dominated most of the public hearings on the Arizona Department of Transportation’s (ADOT) long-range transportation plan for Payson, but the nitty-gritty details of surface street rebuilds and extensions will likely have more impact on the locals than the glimmerings of a bypass.
ADOT’s traffic engineers have spent a year measuring traffic volumes on Payson’s surface streets and pondering the growth patterns coded into Payson’s general plan.
The recently released recommendations focused on overburdened streets and a strategic list of road extensions to create north-south routes on each side of the often-jammed highway.
The highlight of the recommendations features a $15 million, three-mile highway alternative route that splits off Highway 87 south of the casino and reconnects to Highway 260 at Tyler Parkway. The route would allow drivers to skip the jammed Highway 260-87 intersection in the center of town, but the drivers headed north toward Show Low would still have to crawl through Star Valley.
The engineers also recommended a $100 million stage two of that approach, which would add an additional highway detour that would skip Star Valley entirely — while leaving Payson motorists with what amounts to a throughway the length of town just east of Highway 87.
The recommendations spurred debate and objections by Star Valley advocates, worried the short, affordable route would dump Payson’s problems on its neighbor — despite the assurances of the traffic engineers that the shorter bypass route would result in only “moderate” congestion in Star Valley — meaning traffic would continue to flow 5 or 10 miles an hour below the speed limit during peak traffic periods.
The engineers acknowledge that none of the plans in the mix would provide a wide enough highway to avoid stop-and-go traffic and long waits to turn left onto the highway during peak summer tourist weekends.
On average, any of the proposed bypasses would reduce traffic at that choke point highway intersection from about 41,000 cars per day to about 31,000 cars per day on average weekend days in 2030.
If those projections are accurate, the bypass would reduce traffic at that intersection by 24 percent, leaving it about as congested as it is today.
The intersection would remain jammed on holiday weekends, since the ADOT engineers said the state couldn’t afford to design an interchange big enough to handle those peak loads.
Payson road rebuilds
However, the ADOT engineers said that modest improvements could keep traffic moving freely on surface streets throughout the year.
The ADOT engineers recommended a long list of road rebuilds, widenings and extensions, intended to keep traffic moving on surface streets — even when the traffic on the highway has slowed to a crawl.
The recommended improvements generally matched the transportation element of Payson’s General Plan. Payson has long maintained a priorities list of rebuilds and extensions — but has canceled all major road improvement projects for two years now due to a plunge in sales tax and gas tax revenues due to the recession.
The report divided the proposed improvements into short-term projects needed in the next five years and mid-term projects needed between 2015 and 2020.
Extension of Mud Springs
Most of the improvements were taken from the town’s existing road priority list. That includes projects like the extension of Mud Springs Road from the existing roundabout at Granite Dells to Highway 260, an issue that two years ago dominated town politics.
Even projects already approved two years ago ended up canceled, when the recession dried up the gas tax revenues collected by the state and doled out to towns and counties on a competitive basis. The study could help Payson compete for money, but provides no funds for the suggested improvements.
The traffic planners assumed that Payson’s population would increase from 16,965 at present to 22,635 in 2030 — a 33 percent increase. In that same period, planners assumed the number of people with jobs would increase from 6,714 to 8,952 and the number of occupied housing units would rise from 6,714 to 8,952.
Following is a list of the recommended mid- and short-term road improvements, recommended by the ADOT engineers.
Short Term projects 2010-2015
• Mud Springs to Highway 260: This million-dollar project would extend Mud Springs straight north to the highway, diverting traffic from the congested, complex and accident-prone intersection of Granite Dells and the highway just where the Safeway parking lot dumps traffic into the intersection.
• Rumsey Drive to McLane Road: This short extension would provide what amounts to back-door access to Walmart for drivers coming from the west side of the highway. The extension would contribute to the development of McLane as a north-south alternative route west of the state highway.
These projects would generally rebuild decaying, potholed streets already long overdue for replacement, even before the cutback on even routine maintenance in the past two years. In many cases, the projects would add sidewalks and bike paths and shoulder improvements to already potholed streets. Some projects, like the reconstruction of a stretch of Bonita Street were already scheduled when the recession dried up funding.
Proposed reconstructions include:
• Longhorn from Lima Ranch to Stone Creek Subdivision.
• Colcord Road: From Main Street to Longhorn.
• McLane Road: From Main Street to Phoenix Street.
• Phoenix Street: From Highway 87 to Sycamore Street.
• Bonita Street: From Highway 87 to St. Phillips Street.
• Manzanita Drive: From north of the shopping center to Timber Drive.
• Easy Street: From Evergreen Street to Forest Drive.
The short-term plan also called for improvements to the two main stretches of highway through town, mostly signs, pavement paint and turn signals.
Long term 2015-2020 Road Extensions:
• Green Valley Parkway (Phase 1): This project would extend Green Valley Parkway from the end of a short spur opposite the casino all the way up to where the road now dead-ends south of Country Club Road, a key link in a north-south alternative to the west of the highway.
• McLane Road: Extend a short spur to connect McLane to Green Valley near the highway opposite the casino for what amounts to a scrap of frontage road near the event center.
• Sherwood Drive: From where it ends now to Airport Road, an extension already fiercely debated when the town council approved a general plan amendment to shape development of land near the airport recently swapped with the U.S. Forest Service.
• Sherwood Drive: McLane Road to Colcord Road: This extension would close a gap and turn Sherwood both east and west of the highway into an alternative route.
• Malibu Drive: From Easy Street to Manzanita Drive. The extension would connect the heavily potholed Manzanita to the street that runs past Walmart.
• Goodnow Road: From the end of the pavement to Bonita Street, providing another north-south alternative east of the highway.
• Frontier Street: From Highway 87 to McLane Road.
• Mud Springs Road: From Cedar Lane to Frontier Street.
• Easy Street: From Forest Drive to Bradley Drive.
• McLane Road: From Airport Road all the way to the Payson Pines and Ranchos subdivisions.
Safety and flood control improvements:
Highway 87, near Airport Road — to prevent flooding during downpours.
Main Street, from the highway to McLane — to prevent chronic flooding both on Main Street and on the highway.
Granite Dells: From the Mud Springs roundabout to the highway, to provide shoulders, signs and striping to reduce accidents.