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11:29 PM Sat, Sept. 22nd

County, ADOT exploring use of connectors; Rather than left turn in 69/89 interchange

PRESCOTT — When the Arizona Department of Transportation re-builds the interchange at highways 69 and 89 in a few years, it may create no connection between southbound Highway 89 and eastbound 69.

The left turn through the congested interchange adds a substantial cost to the project and reduces its safety, officials believe, and they are looking for a different way to design the interchange.

Yavapai County Public Works Director Richard Straub presented the idea to local officials during Thursday's Central Yavapai Trans-portation Planning Organization (CYTPO) meeting.

Straub said now that Prescott is building one 69/89 connector from the Gateway Mall to Prescott Lakes and the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe is looking at another from the Sundog Ranch Road area to Target on High-way 69, a left turn through the busy interchange is unnecessary.

Straub said the state and local officials have been struggling with the interchange for 20 years. Making the interchange safer is a difficult proposition, faced with the crowded en-trance to the city.

Having all those turning motions in a small area makes the job even more complicated, he said.

And while the state has a design that will work, taking the left turn out of the middle of the intersection would allow room for additional turn lanes and save money.

Straub said if the state and local governments can work it out, they would sign Highway 89 with warning signs that no left turn is allowed at the 69/89 interchange.

They would notify drivers that they can connect with eastbound Highway 69 either by taking Sundog connector or the Prescott Lakes Parkway.

A driver wanting to go from Highway 89 to the Prescott Resort, for example, would take the Sundog connector to Highway 69 and make a right turn into the resort at Heather Heights, Straub said, making a safer turning motion.

"I think it merits some thought," said John Olsen, CYTPO chairman and District 2 supervisor.

ADOT Prescott District Engineer Tom Foster said the idea does merit some thought. It's an idea that first came up during the public comment meetings at the start of the project study. But ADOT isn't going to modify the proposed design without a good deal of study.

"It's in the exploratory stage," Foster said. "There are a lot of issues that need to be evaluated."

Foster said before ADOT could proceed to take away the interchange left turn movement, they would have to settle on the designated left turn roadway.

That roadway would have to handle the anticipated load of traffic. ADOT would have to work through an intergovernmental agreement for roadway and signal maintenance.

Generally, that's with a city or county government, not with a tribal government, Foster said.

The Yavapai-Prescott Tribe's planner wasn't at the CYTPO meeting and wasn't available to comment about the proposal.

Foster said the cost of improving the 69/89 interchange would be substantially less without the left-turn signalization that is planned.

However, the state and local governments would have to improve the intersection designated for left turns onto Highway 69. That could bring the cost back up to the original figure, or even increase it, Foster said. It's just too early in the process to know, he said.

Foster said the state has money in the fiscal 2002 budget for designing the interchange. That means the design work could begin next summer.

The construction money is in the fiscal 2004 budget, he said. But the money there isn't enough to do all of the construction. ADOT would have to do a phased construction, or add more money to the pot, he said.

Foster noted that the current left-turn movement, up the hill with no signal, is not as dangerous as it appears. It probably should result in more accidents, but very few occur from people colliding while crossing 89 or merging with 69 traffic.

"It is uncomfortable for some people," he said. "Maybe by being uncomfortable, people take more precautions."