A week after business owners and residents protested to the Arizona Department of Transportation that a repaving project through Pine was driving away business during a crucial economic season, things improved.
With the project nearing the halfway point in town and the majority of work to driveways and turnoffs complete, access to businesses has improved. In addition, an overly cautious pilot car driver was told to speed things up after guiding vehicles through at a snail’s pace. However, business owners and drivers face at least a few more days of frustration as crews rush to lay asphalt ahead of monsoon storms.
Project contractor Fann Construction owner Mike Fann said he empathizes with business owners and drivers, and would be frustrated if he were in their position.
“I do feel for the businesses because they really do count on the tourism during the summer,” he said. “We really do want to keep people happy. It is a lot easier to get things done when people have smiles on their faces.”
By nature, construction is a nuisance, but Fann said they are doing their best to keep it at a minimum.
Fann admits they have had a few long days, with crews working well into the night milling and filling trenches. He hopes construction will soon be out of Pine and back out on the highway north of town, where it should not affect businesses as much.
Fann Construction crews have until September to finish the $3 million, 10-mile repaving project, which stretches from Pine to the lip of the Rim.
Last week, crews started the project by removing the old asphalt. Fann said it should take three weeks to complete asphalt milling and paving, so the project could be nearly finished by mid August. Factor in striping, and the project should finish on schedule.
The only thing that could hold the project up is the weather.
“We are in the middle of the monsoon season so if we have to call a short day, that could extend the numbers,” he said.
Under ADOT’s contract, Fann Construction crews can only work Monday through Friday morning to lessen the impact on businesses.
The contract does not limit how late crews can work during the weekdays.
After milling up the roadway, Fann said crews are required to fill any trenches by the end of the day.
“If we have equipment break down during the day or weather comes in, we have to stay out there until it is done,” Fann said. “Generally speaking our goal is to fill the trench each night and be off the road before dark.”
Last week, crews were out till as late as 12:30 a.m., said Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce Manager John Stanton.
“I recognize that this project will continue until finished,” Stanton said in a an e-mail to ADOT officials. “I simply want to let you know that there are some very frustrated people in Pine and Strawberry who feel that they are being taken advantage of by the timing of this project.”
Stanton questioned why the project had to start in July when it could have started in August or September.
On Monday, Stanton said he drove out to see the construction for himself and speak with the project foreman and supervisor.
“The supervisor I spoke with said that the asphalt could not be put down after Sept. 15, due to cold,” Stanton said in an e-mail to ADOT.
“Still, that would give seven weeks during August and September. The frustration I feel is nothing compared to the businesses holding on by their fingernails, and may not survive the construction.”
ADOT said since they only have until Sept. 15 to lay down the quieter, longer-lasting rubberized paving, the project must be done during the peak tourist season.
Several visitors who stopped by the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce told volunteers they would not stop in Pine during the construction because of the hassle.
Others said that although the construction was a hassle, they understood it had to be done.
A host of business owners and residents complained to ADOT that wait times through town were as much as an hour.
Fann said they monitor queue times throughout the day and found no delays longer than 21 minutes.
“I understand their frustrations,” he said. “If I was sitting there I would be frustrated too, but we can’t risk safety by breaking the rules of flagging.”
Fann said a pilot car driver was exacerbating wait times by driving to slowly through the area, but had been told to move traffic through at 25 to 30 miles an hour.
Fann said he took exception to complaints that flaggers did not know what they were doing.
“Every flagger has gone through training and is certified,” he said.