Gila County officials have issued a desperate call to arms in hopes residents will appeal to the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) not to abandon a highway project on a deadly stretch of road.
Faced with the loss of local gas tax money and federal funding, ADOT has come up with three versions of its five-year plan for highway improvements.
Only Alternative B includes money to improve state highways in Gila County, including the $42 million Lion Springs project to add two lanes to Highway 260 between Star Valley and Preacher Canyon. Alternative B also includes money for the Silver King project to widen Highway 60 between the Boyce Thompson Arboretum and Superior.
However, ADOT is currently leaning toward either plan A or C, both of which would drop the Lion Springs project from the five-year plan.
“These improvements were started in the 1980s,” said Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin, “but they just moved the death traps around — they simply need to finish it.”
Gila County has promised to put up a $2.4 million to provide a 6 percent match if ADOT will leave the Lion Springs project in the five-year plan. “We have said we will use our half-cent sales tax. If they can’t get (federal) financing this year, we’ll cooperate with them in the same grant if they’ll keep Lion Springs in the five-year plan.”
She said the highway widening project remains critical to protecting both lives and the region’s economy.
“It’s why the highway backs up for miles on holiday weekends when people hit that bottleneck,” said Martin. “If they kick it out of this
five-year plan, I don’t think we’ll get it back in for the next 20 years. They’re very upfront about that.”
Instead, she said the preferred plans A and C put almost all of the money into Pima and Maricopa counties. The little bit of money spent in rural areas would mostly pay for resurfacing of the existing highways, although the state’s highways are already in better shape than most other states.
If Gila County can’t get its fair share of the money in the current five-year plan, major projects will likely eat up the highway funds for years to come. “They want to put all the money into the new Interstate 11 between Phoenix and Kingman and in the Sun Corridor between Tucson and Prescott. If we can’t keep it in this five-year plan — I don’t know how long it’ll be.”
She said the stretch of two-lane highway remaining between Star Valley and the Mogollon Rim remains one of the most deadly in the state. “That’s where we’re killing people. We kill one a month on average.”
She urged residents to register their preference for Scenario B on the ADOT Web site (http://www.azdot.gov/mpd/Priority_Programming/Five_Year_Programs.asp). Look for the link to submit comments. You can send an e-mail or print and mail the public comment form. The deadline for comments is Friday.
Both the Payson Town Council and the Star Valley Town Council have also adopted strong resolutions supporting Scenario B and the completion of the Highway 260 widening in the Lion Springs project.