Are population projections calling for Willow Creek Road realignment accurate?
PRESCOTT - The skewed geometry of the Willow Creek Road/Highway 89 intersection is contributing to the need for a massive road realignment in the area, say transportation experts.
More than 100 people turned out for a Wednesday evening public meeting, where consultants outlined a study that is under way for the realignment of Willow Creek Road.
Afterward, Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) District Engineer Greg Gentsch explained that the Willow Creek Road/Highway 89 intersection as it currently exists is in need of improvements.
"The problem is the geometry of the intersection," Gentsch said. "The diagonal part of Willow Creek Road is the issue." The goal of the proposed realignment, he added, is to "collect traffic where we can safely handle it."
The $135,000 Planning Assistance for Rural Areas (PARA) study that began in August 2011 will help to determine a more efficient configuration for Willow Creek Road and how it intersects with Highway 89.
Kate Bondy, project engineer with the Phoenix-based AECOM consulting firm, explained that the study has yet to propose any alignment alternates. Meanwhile, consultants are looking at several realignment options that came up in previous studies.
One such option would use Perkins Drive instead of MacCurdy Drive as an intersecting point for Willow Creek/Highway 89. Another would create a new stretch of Willow Creek Road to the north, running parallel with and west of Highway 89, and ultimately intersecting with the highway north of Ruger Road.
While the PARA study is focusing on the realignment of Willow Creek Road, Gentsch noted that the configuration of Highway 89 will be determined under a separate design contract focusing on the engineering of the upcoming highway widening.
He said officials opted to separate the two projects because the Highway 89 widening is a state project, while Willow Creek Road is under City of Prescott/Yavapai County jurisdiction.
Consultants say the realignment project is necessary, in part, because of future population and employment growth expected in the area over the next two decades.
The presentation showed that all of the intersections in the project area (Perkins Drive, MacCurdy Drive, Ruger Road) currently operate at a "level of service" of a D or better. But with future growth, consultants say all of the intersections will operate at an F, or failing level of service.
Even so, much of the discussion at Wednesday's meeting centered on the population projections that consultants are using.
The numbers came from the current Regional Transportation Plan for the area, which projected that population in the tri-city area would grow by nearly 280 percent by 2030 - from 117,671 in 2006 to 439,000 in 2030. The totals included populations for Prescott, Prescott Valley, Chino Valley, and unincorporated Yavapai County.
However, those figures came into question at the Wednesday public meeting, as well as during the Prescott City Council discussion of the topic on Tuesday.
"Has there been any consideration that some of the traffic volumes have been modified as a result of the economic downturn over the last three or four years?" Mayor Marlin Kuykendall asked the consultants Tuesday.
Deputy State Engineer Dallas Hammit told the City Council that ADOT and the study consultants rely heavily on the information that they receive from the Central Yavapai Metropolitan Planning Organization (CYMPO), the region's transportation-planning group.
Approval of the most recent Regional Transportation Plan occurred in 2006, which consultant Jennifer Bixby acknowledged Tuesday was "when population growth was at its peak."
Currently, a new CYMPO study is gearing up, and consultants said they plan to factor the updated numbers into their study.
CYMPO Administrator Chris Bridges noted that CYMPO is under an $81,321 contract with Jacobs Engineering to do a scaled-back 2012 Regional Transportation Plan. He estimated that the updated plan should be complete by late May.
Officials say many of the details about when the Willow Creek realignment construction might occur and who will pay for it have yet to be determined.