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Sun, Feb. 23

Crowd takes city to task over detoursPhase 3 of road widening project 10 days away

PRESCOTT – With predictions of bumper-to-bumper traffic speeding through their neighborhoods, the people who live along two proposed detours bombarded city officials with questions about the Willow Creek Road widening project Thurs-day night.

About 100 people turned out for the informational meeting the city conducted at the Prescott Free Methodist Church to explain the third phase of the Willow Creek Road widening project.

For about an hour and a half, the audience tossed dozens of questions at city Public Works officials, members of the Prescott City Council, and a representative from the construction company that will do the job.

Uppermost in many of the residents' minds were two detours that they fear will bring thousands of cars past their homes every day.

In March, the Prescott City Council awarded the $7.5 million contract for the one-mile stretch of Willow Creek Road between Green Lane and Mitchell Road to Pierson Construction of Tempe. Along with the base bid, the council accepted Pierson's deduction of $210,000 to allow the contractor to completely close down a portion of Willow Creek Road for about two and a half months.

In order to do that, the city has designated two detours – a southbound section that will begin on Fern Drive and continue on to Atterbury, Cyclorama, Ewin and Green; and a northbound section that will use Pulliam, Douglas, Nolte, Ridge and Mitchell.

While the streets of the northbound detour are paved, much of the southbound detour traverses dirt roads that have sharp turns and steep grades.

Residents reminded the city of the terrain Thursday night. And they asked how the narrow roads would handle the volume that regularly travels Willow Creek Road.

Currently, that stretch of Willow Creek Road handles about 20,000 cars per day – 10,000 in each direction.

William Waldock, a certified safety specialist who lives along the southbound detour, asked Mark Nietupski of the Public Works de-partment about the "flow rate" through the stop signs the city will erect along the detour.

He suggested that the stop signs may handle about eight cars per minute. "What happens when you have 2,000 cars at eight in the morning?" Waldock asked.

Another resident predicted that there will be "bumper-to-bumper cars in there."

But the city is betting that the condition of the detour will actually discourage people from using it.

"Hopefully, when people do it once, they will find alternate routes," Nietupski said.

He pointed out that the city will post signs on all of the major streets leading to Willow Creek Road, suggesting that drivers find alternates to the construction zone. For instance, drivers coming from Chino Valley could continue on Highway 89 and come into Prescott on Sheldon. Or they could take Willow Creek Road to Pioneer Parkway, and then take Williamson Valley and Iron Springs Road.

Nietupski acknowledged that the detour will be inconvenient for the residents, but he emphasized that the Willow Creek Road widening will benefit the entire community in the long run.

"We understand this is going to be a bitter pill to swallow for a while," Nietupski said. "But it will be a short duration. It will be difficult for a little while, but life will be better (after the widening is complete)."

People in the audience agreed that the widening job is necessary, but they questioned why the city chose the option of completely closing down the road without more community comment. Several people said they had no idea the shut-down was even an option until after the City Council had made its decision.

Nietupski and Public Works Director Tom Long said they, too, were surprised that the council opted to close the road. "We honestly didn't know it would be a chosen option – that's the bottom line," Nietupski said.

Added Long: "We didn't anticipate the council would make that decision. If I had made the decision, it might have been different. We always assumed southbound traffic would stay on Willow Creek Road." But, he said, the option is in effect, and the city officials had to find a viable detour.

City Councilman Tom Reilly, who attended the meeting, said the council based its decision on several factors – how to get the job done as quickly as possible, safety of workers and drivers, and cost.

"Our Ouija board told us this was the best way to go," Reilly said. "I do know one thing, and that is we have to do the road. And we thought this was in the best interest of the community and in the interest of safety."

As the contractor plans it, preliminary construction work will begin April 17, and the northbound detour will go into effect April 24. Crews will shut down both directions of traffic on Willow Creek Road in about the second week of May, and then the southbound detour will be in effect for about 75 days. As soon as work is done on the narrowest section of Willow Creek Road, crews will reinstate southbound traffic, and the southbound detour will be discontinued.

Nietupski said the northbound detour is "open-ended" and could continue through several months of the 10-month schedule.

Larry Bryant of Pierson Con-struction said crews will do a minimal amount of night work, but will work often on Saturdays. "I assure you, the road won't be closed one day longer than necessary," he told the crowd. "We'll make every day count."

During the detours, Pierson will apply the dust control agent, Pennzsuppress D, to the dirt roads to keep down dust and help maintain the surface of the road.

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