The long-awaited and much-anticipated widening and paving of Pine Creek Canyon Road has been put on hold.
Originally the project was to have begun in June and be completed by fall. But problems with relocating the existing utility lines, including water, electricity, telephone and gas, prompted Gila County officials to delay the road construction until the spring of 2012.
“The county does not want to risk starting the project in the late summer or the fall and not being able to complete it due to winter weather,” Deputy Public Works Director Steve Sanders said. “The possibility of this highly traveled roadway existing as a dirt roadway through the winter is not an option that the county wishes to pursue.”
The difficulty of moving the existing utility lines was briefly discussed during a county-hosted public meeting held in February at the Pine Cultural Center.
However, once engineers and survey crews began staking out the roadway, problems with moving the lines were “found to be greater than expected and the relocation of the utilities will take longer than anticipated,” said Sanders.
Also, the Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District has indicated to county officials it would like to have extended time to replace and upgrade aging water lines running parallel to the roadway.
The improvements could also include installing fire hydrants if the size of the water lines is increased
“This is quite a project for them,” said Sanders.
Coordinating those upgrades with the road project, Sanders said, could result in cost savings to northern Gila County residents.
Also, he said, widening and paving has been a long and extensive project that began four years ago with obtaining the rights-of-way needed.
Sanders anticipates several of the utilities will begin relocating their lines this fall, but PSWID will wait until next spring and work jointly with the county in installing water lines and widening and paving the road.
Pine Creek Canyon Road serves as a main access and exit for more than a thousand residents who live in one of the three Portal subdivisions, in Pine Creek Canyon itself and for Camp Lo Mia, a girls mountain retreat belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Residents in the canyon have long feared that should a forest fire ignite in the canyon, a speedy evacuation would be almost impossible because the roadway is so narrow there is limited space for two cars to pass when traveling in opposite directions.
A worst-case scenario residents have discussed is a falling tree or power line blocking the road during a forest fire, trapping some residents in the canyon.
The project, once it is begun, will include widening and paving about 5,000 feet of Pine Creek Canyon Road beginning at its intersection with the Beeline Highway just south of the LDS church.