A Highway 69 logjam that has contributed to hundreds of side-swipe and rear-end crashes in recent years is set to go away within the next two years or so.
Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) District Engineer Alvin Stump reports that the $10 million cost of widening a one-mile stretch of the highway between Frontier Village and the Prescott Gateway Mall is in ADOT’s budget for the 2021 fiscal year.
Of the $10 million total allocated by the state, about $1.28 million would go toward right-of-way acquisitions and utility work, Stump said, while the remainder would go toward construction.
Design costs add another $1 million, which is being paid for by local governments and the regional transportation-planning organization.
The project will widen the one-mile stretch from four lanes to six lanes to make it consistent with the sections in front of Frontier Village and the Gateway Mall area — eliminating the existing traffic bottleneck.
Although it is still too soon to say exactly when the construction will begin, Stump said it is slated to start sometime after the July 2020 start of the 2021 fiscal year, and to continue on for one year to 18 months.
That will bring limited construction impacts to the 40,000 or more vehicles that travel the section of highway each day.
Still, Stump said daytime traffic should proceed without significant interruptions. “We have specified that we need to maintain two lanes of traffic in each direction during daytime hours, because the traffic is just too heavy,” he said.
Along with the widening, the project will include the addition of a raised center median on the nearly two miles of highway from about Heather Heights to Prescott Lakes Parkway. Stump said any median work that requires lane closures would have to be done at night.
For years, local officials have stressed safety issues that exist between the Yavpe Connector and Prescott Lakes Parkway intersections, and have pushed for a widening project.
“It’s been a priority for the locals — the MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) and the city and the county,” Stump said. “Having the bottleneck in there makes it dangerous.”
Chris Bridges, administrator of the Central Yavapai Metropolitan Planning Organization (CYMPO), said, “It’s mostly a safety issue, but also a capacity issue.”
Bridges noted that the current highway configuration creates a traffic “hourglass” that requires vehicles to merge in and out.
That, in turn, has led to hundreds of rear-end collisions and side-swipe crashes that typically occur when drivers either merge into the side of another vehicle, or stop to let traffic go by and are hit from behind, Bridges said.
Although more recent statistics were not available, crash numbers over the five years from 2009 to 2014 put the total Highway 69 collisions at 582.
“The number of accidents was one of the elements,” Stump said of the state’s decision this past June to finance the widening project. “It’s a very important project to the area, and it’s a good example of the (regional) partnership.”
With its upwards of 40,000 vehicles per day, Bridges said the stretch of highway “is one of the busiest roadway sections in the area.”
In late 2016, the Prescott City Council agreed to pay $150,000 of the $950,000 cost of the design of the widening project.
That was in addition to $150,000 from Yavapai County, and a loan/transfer of $650,000 from the Northern Arizona Council of Governments (NACOG) — an amount that Bridges said CYMPO has since paid back.
The goal of the regional partnership was to help convince ADOT to move forward with the design, and ultimately, the widening construction.
Bridges estimated this week that the design work would be underway by late February/early March.