August 28, 2015 6:00 am • MICHELLE McMANIMON Sun Staff Reporter
Nine Arizona state legislators and one U.S. congressman got a glimpse at Flagstaff’s traffic concerns during a transportation town hall meeting at City Hall Thursday.
During the meeting, Flagstaff Metropolitan Planning Organization Manager David Wessel listed specific projects that would improve circulation on city roads, as well as the highways that are critical to local commerce and tourism. One of the commerce corridors he focused on was Interstate 17. He said the freeway, which connects Flagstaff to Phoenix, needs to be widened and receive more regular maintenance.
“Whether it is students coming to NAU, tourists or access for businesses like Gore, I-17 is critical,” Wessel said.
He also called for widening on Interstate 40, which is a major corridor for manufacturers who want to ship goods across the country from east to west and vice versa. ECONA President and CEO Richard Bowen said the I-40 corridor is also important because it fuels economic growth in Williams, Flagstaff and Winslow, and has the potential to turn the area around Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort into a major metropolitan zone on the Navajo Nation.
Eve Ross, W.L. Gore’s public policy and strategy director, said 40 percent of the company’s employees use I-40 to get to work at the company’s Flagstaff campuses every day.
Another set of improvements on Wessel’s wish list will likely resonate with anyone who tried to take Fort Valley Road/Highway 180 on a winter holiday weekend.
“(Highway) 180 cannot handle the flow to the Grand Canyon and certainly it’s not handling the flow to the ski area,” said Arizona Snowbowl General Manager J.R. Murray.
For the first time ever, the city received reports that morning traffic to snowplay areas and Arizona Snowbowl was backed up onto Interstate 17 during the 2014 Christmas and New Year’s holiday weekends.
“Sometimes, it takes three hours to go 6 miles in the wintertime because the demand is so great and the capacity can’t handle it,” Murray said.
And that congestion, he said, is not only dangerous but bad for business.
Wessel suggested widening the shoulders and adding bike lanes on Highway 180, in addition to improving and preserving the pavement. U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar also said he is trying to use his influence to get the federal government to widen Snowbowl Road, which is a U.S. Forest Service road.
Wessel also identified critical projects in town, including South Milton Road, which he said needs access management, more pedestrian and bike crossings, intersection fixes and possible widening. Ross had already asked for something to be done to fix congestion on Milton Road during her presentation to the lawmakers.
“If you live in Flagstaff, you can easily spend 20 minutes getting from I-17 to City Hall on almost any given day,” she said.
Widening the Lone Tree Road corridor and adding an I-40 interchange at the south end and a railroad crossing at the north end, Wessel said, could create an alternative route to complement Milton Road.
“We should have an arterial (road off I-40) about every mile,” he said. “We’re not really that close to having that in Flagstaff.”
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Gosar, State Representative Bob Thorpe and State Senator Sylvia Allen were among the lawmakers brought to Flagstaff this Wednesday and Thursday for the kickoff of the Accelerate Arizona Transportation Roadshow. It is a joint effort by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, local chambers and trade associations to lobby for statewide transportation needs in the face of a Highway Users Revenue Fund shortfall and legislative opposition to a long-term highway funding bill.
Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Julie Pastrick urged the legislators to invest in Arizona’s infrastructure.
“Everybody needs transportation,” Pastrick said. “But when we’re talking about the infrastructure, whether or not a business can expand or a small park can grow, were talking about the very lifeblood of all the families and the jobs and the people that live in these rural communities.”
But a large investment that relies on state tax revenue appears unlikely.
The Arizona Department of Transportation rolled out its plan to fix the state’s roadways, which would cost the state an additional $1 billion per year for the next 20 years. State Senate Transportation Committee Chair Bob Worsley pointed out the gasoline sales tax would have to increase from 18 cents per gallon to around 80 cents per gallon – the highest in the nation.
“The governor has made it clear he wants no tax increases and I think our leadership in the House and the Senate feel the same way,” Worsley said.
Regardless of what Arizona lawmakers decide, traffic infrastructure promises to remain a hot topic for Flagstaff businesses.
“We have a huge industry based on transportation here in Flagstaff and, of course, for tourism you absolutely have to have it,” said Mayor Jerry Nabours. “People have to be able to get around and get where they want to go easily. That is critical to Flagstaff.”
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