The Arizona Department of Transportation has nearly completed the fifth of six widening projects on Highway 260 east of Payson.
Crews will finish the Doubtful Canyon section west of the Christopher Creek Campground this fall, a year behind schedule thanks to weather-caused delays.
“Following the Labor Day holiday, crews will begin working on the final phase of the project by applying the top layer of rubberized asphalt, which will create a much smoother ride for drivers,” said Dustin Krugel, public information officer with ADOT.
And making the scenic drive smoother and safer for motorists has been the goal all along.
The Doubtful Canyon project is part of a larger effort to widen the highway from Star Valley all the way to the Mogollon Rim. Four other sections of SR 260 have already been widened, but the final stretch, which sits just outside of Star Valley, will remain untouched for at least five more years.
The State Transportation Board recently approved a five-year project plan that focuses more on maintenance and not expansion projects.
The move comes after the board cut $350 million over the next five years as state and federal highway funding dwindled.
Dozens of residents and local officials urged ADOT to complete the final widening project anyway, citing safety and wildlife concerns. The two-lane section of road has had several fatalities over the years and is the site of major backups during holiday weekends when campers and minivans crowd the roadways. Still, the board moved construction of the project out of the plan, while leaving just enough money in the budget to design the final section.
A Federal Highway Administration analysis says Arizona has some of the safest roads and bridges in the country, but experts worry that could change with the recent budget cuts.
“We’ve been successful in maintaining our highways and bridges over the years,” said Doug Nintzel, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Transportation to Cronkite News. “But like other states, we’re concerned that current funding levels are not going to come close to meeting future needs.”
“We used to talk about funding needs as if there were storm clouds on the horizon,” Nintzel told Cronkite News. “That storm cloud has arrived.”
With the average traffic on State Route 260 near Star Valley approximately 13,000 vehicles per day, and that number exploding on the holiday weekends, a wider, safer highway was essential.
In 2001, ADOT completed the first section of the widening project, turning Preacher Canyon from a two-lane undivided roadway into a four-lane divided highway.
Now, 95 percent of the three-mile Doubtful Canyon section is done.
One of the biggest challenges on the $29.4 million section was weather, Krugel said.
“Rubberized asphalt can only be applied at a certain heat level in order to assure it adheres properly to the existing surface, which restricts our crews when they can complete the work.”
When complete, the roadway will have new elk fencing throughout the entire project and additional slope work and erosion control.
The Doubtful Canyon section includes:
• Six new concrete bridges
• Improved drainage
• Rubberized asphalt pavement to
minimize noise and create a
• Signage, striping and guardrails