69/89 interchange construction causes traffic issues
PRESCOTT - Since June, when the Arizona Department of Transportation shut down left turns under the interchange bridge from southbound Highway 89 to Highway 69, local drivers have had to become accustomed to a major traffic change.
And some apparently have had difficulty adjusting.
According to numbers from the Prescott Police Department, officers have written dozens of citations and warnings along the two blocks of Gurley Street that are the site of much of the construction work.
Police records show that since January, drivers have received 43 civil tickets, eight criminal tickets, and 105 warnings in the 1200 and 1300 blocks of East Gurley.
In addition, the police department has recorded 19 accidents in the area, six of which involved injuries.
Sgt. Tim Fletcher, the department's traffic section supervisor, said Prescott officers began receiving calls immediately after ADOT made its traffic changes, with callers complaining about drivers violating the "no U-turn" signs at the intersection of Gurley and Overland Trail.
Since then, he said, officers have patrolled the area regularly, and have seen plenty of violations.
"It is plainly marked 'no U-turns'," Fletcher said, even though drivers apparently see the left-turn lane as a convenient way to get from southbound Highway 89 to Highway 69.
Rather, Fletcher said, the left-turn lane on Highway 89 at Overland provides a back entrance to the VA Cemetery - as identified on a sign at the site.
"The most excuses we get (from drivers) is 'how are we supposed to get back eastbound' (on Highway 69)?" Fletcher said.
He offers two answers to that question. First, he said, southbound Highway 89 drivers need to change their habits by using Prescott Lakes Parkway to get to Highway 69, as ADOT signs suggest.
Secondly, if southbound Highway 89 drivers do end up at the interchange and need to get to Highway 69, they should take a short detour westbound down Gurley to Rush Street, where they should turn right and continue to Sheldon Street and take another right turn.
Another problem has resulted from drivers making left turns from the Gurley Street driving lane into businesses near the Prescottonian Best Western Motel, despite a double-yellow line.
While that has interrupted traffic, Fletcher said police officers have little recourse, because such left turns are legal in Arizona.
"It's not the safest thing, and we don't recommend it," Fletcher said of the left turns.
As an alternative to the left turns, Fletcher recommends the Rush-to-Sheldon-Street detour as well, which would allow drivers to make a right turn into the businesses near the Prescottonian.
ADOT Public Information Officer Bill Williams allowed that the traffic changes "will take some getting used to on the drivers' part."
At the same time, he said, "We aren't getting a lot of complaints, but that probably has to do with how proactively we've been dealing with (the changes)."
Williams noted that the Prescott Police Department and the Arizona Department of Public Safety have been good partners in helping to get the word out to drivers.
ADOT's schedule calls for the interchange project to be complete by about fall 2009, and Williams said the contractor, FNF Construction, currently is on schedule or slightly ahead.
The $23.6 million interchange overhaul project, which includes a new bridge, a new VA hospital entrance, a widened roadway, and a multi-use trail, kicked off in about November 2007.
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