Tri-cities pool money for 69/89 interchange

PRESCOTT – The tri-city area governments united this week on the need to put all of their Metropolitan Planning Organization money for the current year into the long-awaited overhaul of the interchange at highways 69 and 89.

In a special meeting Thursday morning, the Central Yavapai Metropolitan Planning Organization (CYMPO) followed the recommendation of its technical advisory committee in dedicating the entire allocation of transportation money for 2003 to the 69/89 interchange.

Although some question emerged about the exact amount of the allocation, CYMPO officials estimated that it would be between $509,000 and $532,000.

The CMYPO action apparently does not rule out the possibility that the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) could divert some of its interchange money to the widening of Highway 89 from Sundog Ranch Road to Willow Lake Road. However, Thursday's motion did not allocate any of the MPO money toward that project.

And, ADOT District Engineer Tom Foster emphasized that this week's decision by CYMPO probably would not affect the schedule for the interchange work or the widening on Highway 89.

"My feeling is we're going to move forward with both projects," Foster said after the meeting. "We'll keep the MPO funds in the 69/89 project, and probably move some state money (to the Sundog-to-Willow Lake widening)."

Foster was still hopeful this week that construction on both projects could be under way by fall 2004.

And he stressed again that the Sundog-to-Willow Lake Road project is tied in with the proposed work at the 69/89 interchange. "They go hand-in-hand," he said. Because the re-routed traffic from the overhauled interchange could affect Highway 89, Foster said it is important that the highway be widened to four lanes. Also, by combining the two projects, the state would be able to save money, he added.

At this past week's CYMPO meeting, Foster suggested that ADOT have the option of using the MPO money for the Sundog-to-Willow Lake widening – rather than for the actual interchange work – to allow both of the projects to proceed at the same time.

But that proposal generated debate among the CYMPO board members. Yavapai County Supervisor Gheral Brownlow, for instance, questioned whether the Sundog-to-Willow Lake widening project should get CYMPO money this year, when the project was not on the organization's priority list.

Indeed, the priorities that CYMPO's technical advisory committee recommended in June had the 69/89 interchange work as the number-one priority for the tri-city area. Next on the priority list was the completion of the interchange at highways 89 and 89A.

During last week's discussion on the issue, Brownlow contended that if the 69/89 interchange did not need the CYMPO contribution, the money should go to the next priority, the 89/89A interchange.

This week, Yavapai County Public Works Director Richard Straub questioned Foster about whether the interchange 69/89 overhaul was actually ready to begin.

"I came here in 1987, and this was a discussion in 1987," Straub said of the long-discussed project. "Are we ready to move ahead?"

Foster pointed out that ADOT currently has a design firm on board, and that the plans should be complete by May 2004.

Prescott City Councilman Bob Roecker, a member of the CYMPO board, added: "I understand Mr. Straub's frustration, and I feel it too. But this is the time we need to focus on the 69/89 intersection and get it fixed."

The board unanimously agreed to devote its federal transportation money for the current year to the 69/89 interchange.

Ironically, a development that occurred just hours later may have made that decision unnecessary. Mike Flannery, CYMPO's board chairman and also a Prescott Valley Town Council member, reported Thursday afternoon that he had heard from ADOT officials that the federal transportation money that was earmarked for CYMPO would rather go directly from the Northern Arizona Council of Governments (NACOG) to the ADOT project.

Because CYMPO is new and is still in its formative stages, NACOG apparently will allocate the money this year. That eliminates the need for CYMPO to have the 69/89 interchange project in its Transportation Improvement Plan – a document that the organization has yet to develop.

"That makes our motion somewhat moot," Flannery said of the latest development.

CYMPO began forming after the 2000 census showed that the population of the Prescott-Prescott Valley area had exceeded 50,000, making it a metropolitan area.

The goal of the organization is to look at regional transportation needs and allocate federal transportation money, which NACOG previously allocated to the individual communities.

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com