The Arizona Department of Transportation started repaving Highway 87 through Pine this week, touching off furious protests from business owners and drivers about long delays and chaotic traffic in the midst of the crucial tourist season.
Drivers complained of hour-long delays, haphazard traffic direction and pilot cars leading drivers through the maze at a five-mile-an-hour crawl.
The repaving effort by contractor Fann Construction represents the start of a $3-million, 10-mile repaving effort that will conclude by mid-September, when it gets too cold to safely lay down layers of rubberized asphalt, said ADOT Community Relations Project Manager Bill Pederson.
The pavers should move on out of downtown Pine by the end of next week, he said.
After receiving a landslide of complaints, ADOT dispatched inspectors on Thursday to monitor traffic control through town, said Pederson. The ADOT inspectors timed the delays caused by moving cars through town on one lane and found no delays longer than 21 minutes on Thursday, he said.
However, some residents insisted that earlier in the week, delays often stretched to an hour and that the flagmen at each end of the one-lane zone didn’t even have radios to coordinate their activities.
In an e-mail to Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin, Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce manager John Stanton said, “This is getting out of control. The Fann people are not instructed in alternate routes, they do not have handheld communications and may be able to put down asphalt, but have been given no instructions in traffic control. My wife was almost hit when the traffic guard waved her forward into an oncoming line of cars.”
Steve Morken, owner of the Rimside Grill and Cabins, complained an in e-mail to ADOT that the long delays and confusion will devastate local businesses.
“We are in total distress with another interruption to our prime season. So far, here is what is going on: Minimum 30-minute waits, usually 50 minutes to an hour. They have no concept on how to direct traffic. There are no detour signs when roads within Pine are closed and no solution from the folks directing traffic.”
Pederson said Fann, based in Prescott, is a veteran ADOT contractor, with lots of experience in managing traffic flow.
He could not confirm or deny reports that the pilot car was driving at 5 mph, but said the contractor had been instructed on Thursday to move traffic through at 25 to 30 miles an hour. He also could not confirm or deny reports that the flagmen at each end of the one-lane zone had no radios — but said they’d been instructed to be sure to maintain communications.
He said the impact on local businesses should decrease after next week, when the construction crews move on through town and start working on the stretch of highway between the outskirts of Pine and the top of the Rim — some 10 miles away.
“We realize these projects are disruptive,” he said.
“The roadway is narrow, there’s very little room to work and there are no viable options for detours. Unfortunately, we have to work at the peak of the tourist season because our paving window closes on Sept. 15” for the quieter, longer-lasting rubberized asphalt.
He acknowledged the project has generated a monsoon downpour of complaints, mostly because it affects local businesses. The months of construction work on the outskirts of Payson when crews widened the highway to add shoulders and a guardrail generated almost no complaints at all, he said. That project lasted for months and cost $3.7 million, which came from federal stimulus money.
The Pine repaving project, by contrast, is funded from ADOT’s normal maintenance budget.
Some residents maintain that poor traffic management has made the delays much worse than necessary.
Morken said the construction crews hadn’t even put road closure signs on key streets like Hardscrabble which was temporarily closed at the highway — and that the flagmen directing traffic didn’t know which roads were open and which were closed.
“Something needs to be done with this fiasco being created by ADOT. Our businesses cannot withstand another summer of lost revenue and neither can the state of Arizona!”