Originally Published: September 20, 2018 8:42 p.m.
Drivers stuck in backed-up traffic at the Highway 69/169 intersection, or while exiting Highway 89 onto 89A, may not be linking their traffic frustrations with the importance of transportation planning.
Still, it is long-term planning that is likely to lead to fixes of chronic traffic aggravations.
Chris Bridges, administrator of the region’s transportation planning organization, says the connection between transportation planning and road improvements is real, if sometimes not immediate.
For instance, previous long-range planning efforts have paved the way for such crucial road improvements as the early-2000s re-routing of Highway 89A, and the ongoing widening of Highway 89 between Prescott and Chino Valley.
REGIONAL PLAN 2045
Work on a new Regional Transportation Plan is about to get underway, and Bridges said getting feedback from residents about what is important in the next five years will be a major focus.
The Central Yavapai Metropolitan Planning Organization (CYMPO) approved a $268,433 contract with the AECOM consulting firm Wednesday, Sept. 19, to take on the five-year update of the transportation plan for the region.
The most recent plan, which covered transportation needs through the year 2040, was approved in 2015. The CYMPO region — including Prescott, Prescott Valley, Chino Valley, Dewey-Humboldt, and Yavapai County — is required to update its 25-year plan every five years, Bridges said.
He expects completion of the draft plan by late-2019, and to have the plan approved and in effect by 2020.
The new plan will differ in a number of ways from previous plans, Bridges said. Among the major changes will be the level of public involvement. “We’re going to be doing a lot more public engagement this time,” Bridges said, adding that he hopes the result will be an increase in the number comments from the public.
In the work leading up to the approval of the existing 2040 plan, Bridges said the process generated about 100 comments — many of which were from official sources.
Because of the previous process of getting comments largely from formal planning meetings, Bridges said, “We were not getting comments from the average person.”
This time around, he said, the AECOM contract requires engagement at several popular community events.
For instance, Bridges said planners could opt to have a booth at the spring 2019 Yavapai County Contractors Association Home and Garden Show, as well as at events such as Prescott’s July 4 celebration, Prescott Valley Days, and Chino Valley Territorial Days.
Planners likely will be on hand at the events, offering incentives to get members of the public to participate in surveys.
In addition, Kate Bondy, traffic engineer with consultant AECOM, told the CYMPO board this week, “We are going to be doing a lot of online outreach.”
Rather than the 100 participants during the last planning round, Bridges said, “We might get 1,000 people to comment.”
MORE TRAFFIC, LESS ROAD MONEY
Another of the differences in the 2045 regional plan, Bridges said, will be dealing with the question: “What are we going to do with the funding issues?” He pointed out that at the state level, as well as at the local level, much of the available road money is being consumed by maintenance work.
Therefore, it has become more difficult to plan for new roads or road expansion. With that in mind, Bridges said local officials likely face a decision about investing in better management of the traffic.
“The No. 1 complaint I always get is ‘what are you going to do about Highway 69 and all of the traffic lights?’” Bridges said.
With no money available for a major highway widening, Bridges said the region could look instead at an ITS (Intelligent Transportation System) that would use sensing devices and control communications to improve the safety and efficiency of Highway 69 and its traffic signals.
The study could also look into methods of generating more road-improvement revenue. One option: A regional transportation authority, which would have taxing authority, based on needs identified in an infrastructure improvement plan.
Currently, CYMPO does not have taxing authority, and annually receives federal/state funding of about $650,000 a year, which goes toward regional planning, and leveraging larger projects. But with the Arizona Department of Transportation’s current lack of funding for large new projects, Bridges said, “There is no money to leverage.”
Meanwhile, the area could look at a number of smaller projects that would make a difference for drivers, Bridges said, such as reconfiguration of turning lanes at Highways 69/169 and Highways 89/89A.
The first step in the 2045 planning process be fall kick-off meeting between AECOM, CYMPO staff, and the board’s technical advisory committee.
As the schedule of public meetings is determined, information will be posted on CYMPO’s website at: www.cympo.org.