Payson Council Approves Roundabout

Financial terms convince councilors to contribute $400,000 in gas tax money for a $1.7-million Highway 87/Airport Road roundabout

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Ed Blair

The Payson Town Council Thursday swallowed hard, shook their collective heads, then approved spending $400,000 in gas tax money to pay the town’s share of a roundabout at the intersection of Highway 87 and Airport Road.

Few of the council members would have listed the roundabout as a top road priority, but the Arizona Department of Transportation made them an offer they just couldn’t refuse.

A traffic study convinced ADOT to make traffic control at the intersection of Highway 87 and Airport Road a top priority, based on projected future traffic volumes.

The roundabout will cost between $1.2 and $1.7 million. Normally, ADOT pays half of the cost of such traffic improvements on the state highway. But ADOT agreed to freeze the town’s contribution at the level set in about 2004 or just under $400,000. As a result, the town will end up paying about 26 percent of the cost instead of 50 percent.

The money will come from earmarked gas tax money funneled through the state, although the town has also applied for three different state and federal grants to cover the town’s share.

“We’ll get a $1.7 million improvement for $400,000,” said Mayor Kenny Evans, reflecting the defensive tone of the council in approving the first major street project in two years.

When the town’s budget problems hit two

years ago, the council canceled a slew of street projects and halted even most routine maintenance of streets as state grants, developer funds and the town’s own reserves have all dried up.

Evans conceded that the roundabout project wasn’t a top priority for street work, but came with such generous support from ADOT that the council couldn’t pass up the deal.

The town will pay its portion of the cost from state gas tax money allocated to the town but restricted to road improvements.

“At some point in the near future, ADOT was going to come to us and say ‘you have to have some traffic control at that intersection.’ At that point, we would have had to pay much more than we are now.”

Evans said if the council didn’t approve the project and move forward now, ADOT would require the full 50 percent share of any future project.

Town Public Works Director LaRon Garrett said the council had to act now to lock in the terms of the deal with ADOT, but wouldn’t know until at least April whether it will get a grant to offset its share of the cost.

“Tell everyone about the financial advantages,” said Councilor Ed Blair to Garrett. “None of the money could be used for any of our other needs.”

The town council in December approved additional budget cuts, including staff furloughs that amount to a 12 percent to 15 percent pay cut, to cope with declining tax revenues.

Council members are also acutely conscious of budget issues in the shadow of the Home Rule ballot measure voters received this week, which seeks voter approval to exceed a 1980 spending limit. If voters reject Home Rule, the town’s spending authority will drop to $19 million — which would require the town to slash its budget by about 60 percent and would force the abandonment of the Blue Ridge pipeline and other major projects.

Councilor Richard Croy said, “It’s really important people understand the leverage we have — we’re getting something for far less than 50 cents on the dollar.”

The ADOT engineers recommended construction of the roundabout based on traffic studies predicting severe slowing at peak periods and a sharp rise in accidents at that intersection, which currently has no signal.

The town recently approved apartment and light industrial land use on some 200 acres of land around the airport, which when developed, will sharply increase the number of people turning onto the highway at Airport Road. Currently at peak periods on the weekend, people have to wait for extended periods to make a turn onto the highway from Airport Road.

The ADOT engineers recommended the roundabout rather than a traffic signal based on studies showing that well-designed roundabouts create 75 percent less traffic delay than signals.

Moreover, studies suggest that at intersections converted from traffic lights to roundabouts accidents drop by 40 percent — and fatal accidents drop by 90 percent.

The council in the end voted 7 to 0 to move forward with the roundabout plan.

Garrett said ADOT will seek bids in March and probably start construction by May.

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