While traveling on Interstate 17 for a landscaping job, one of Hugh Pressman’s trailer axles broke after hitting a pothole on the freeway.
Pressman, the owner of Kaibab Landscaping, commutes into Flagstaff from Munds Park and dispatches members of his team throughout the region for projects. Lately, Pressman said, he fears for his employees’ safety when traveling to job sites because of rough conditions on the interstates.
“The road conditions are dire,” Pressman said of interstates 40 and 17. “Those roads are extremely dangerous and covered in potholes.”
Deferred maintenance on freeways in northern Arizona has contributed to rough conditions on some of the most heavily used infrastructure, said Mark Woodson, the owner of Woodson Engineering.
Regular maintenance can keep roads functioning longer and help prevent more costly projects when roads deteriorate too much, he said.
“We’ve gone beyond that point,” Woodson said. “We already have to spend more on maintenance than we would if the roads had been maintained regularly.”
The Arizona Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over both interstates as well as some roads within the city, must “prioritize maintenance and construction projects because there is only so much funding available at one time,” ADOT spokesman Ryan Harding said in an email.
Woodson agreed, and said the solutions would be easy if the money was available.
“The biggest problem today is the financing mechanism for roads,” Woodson said. “The engineering solution is the easy part. We know how to fix it and we know how to maintain it, but we are not given the money to do it.”
Woodson said, based on some resurfacing projects being done on freeways, complete resurfacing can cost about $1 million per mile.
But, potholes and other road hazards have presented a safety risk on local freeways.
“You get safety issues from just plain hitting a pothole,” Woodson said. “And between Flagstaff and Williams, people drive in the left hand lane instead of the right lane and makes passing less safe. I’ve seen trailers flip and truckers repairing tires on the side.”
Woodson served as president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, which issues a report card for infrastructure nationwide and at the state level. The most recent report card for Arizona was issued in 2015, and rated roads throughout the state at a “D plus” level. The report does not break down to the county or district level.
“Motor vehicle crashes cost Arizona $4 billion per year, $833 for each resident, in medical costs, lost productivity, travel delays, workplace costs, insurance costs and legal costs,” the report reads in part.
The report also states that roadway conditions contribute to about one-third of traffic fatalities.
“There were 849 traffic fatalities in 2013 in Arizona. A total of 4,068 people died on Arizona’s highways from 2009 through 2013,” according to the report.
“I-17 and I-40 are critical for the health and well-being of our city,” Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans said. “The bulk of rural Arizona depends on goods, services and people travelling along the I-17 and I-40 corridors.”
The city council hosted the ADOT board over the summer to discuss issues for the Flagstaff area, and Evans said the city, and other cities that depend on the freeways, to have people at the capital when the budget is being crafted to advocate for more funding.
“It will take working with state representatives and senators to say this is a major problem,” Evans said.
Evans said the freeway conditions are “definitely a Flagstaff problem,” but also affect most cities and towns in rural Arizona.
Flagstaff City Manager Josh Copley said the city regards ADOT as a partner in “an atmosphere of collaboration,” and said all concerns he has brought forward to the department.
“There has been a willingness to listen to our concerns and a desire to address the issues,” Copley said.
The city does not have jurisdiction over ADOT-controlled freeways, but Copley said the city considers ADOT a “good partner and collaborator.”
Copley said the freeze-thaw cycles of the Flagstaff area create more road problems than in areas where it does not freeze as often.
“As you’re experiencing a change in altitude, you will see a distinct difference in the road conditions,” Copley said.
Potholes on the freeways can grow exponentially within a few days, Copley said, especially when water freezes inside overnight and thaws during the day.
At the most recent meeting with the department’s board, Copley said he and the city council wanted to focus on the Fourth Street bridges, which need to be widened and lengthened. The city is funding part of the improvements to the bridge.
But Copley said he would like to see more capital improvements from ADOT in the Flagstaff area, and said he and his staff will “continue to bring local concerns” before department representatives and leadership.
The department’s 2018 through 2022 5-year plan, which is still in the review period, does not include capital improvements solely in Coconino County, but does include widening I-17 between Stoneman Lake to Rocky Park road, which is mostly in Yavapai County but extends into Coconino. However, maintenance for existing infrastructure is not listed in the plan.
ADOT does not break down funding allocations by county, and instead uses districts specific to the department, Harding said. Flagstaff is part of the Northcentral district, which includes most of Coconino County and parts of Yavapai, Mohave and Navajo counties.
For the last six years, the Northcentral district has received the second highest allotment for maintenance, second to the Central district that includes the greater Phoenix area. In the 2017 fiscal year, the department allotted $12.8 million to maintenance in the Northcentral district, which Harding said includes “roadway maintenance… repairs to fencing and guardrail, as well as snow removal, emergency responses to crashes or natural disasters such as highway flooding, vehicle maintenance and even worker training costs.”
The Central district also benefits from a half-cent sales tax in Maricopa County, Harding said, which covers more than maintaining the road surface.
The department also has a division called Transportation Systems Management and Operations, which receives maintenance funding for “use statewide with intelligent transportation systems. It also may include some signage, signals, pavement markings and other controlling devices. It’s separate than the funding each engineering district receives directly,” Harding said.
The American Society of Civil Engineers, Woodson’s organization, advocates for a higher tax on gasoline to fund road repair and maintenance, he said.
Evans said she would like the state to consider increasing the gas tax, or look at a transportation tax that could fund projects and maintenance.
“If you aren’t allocating funds for transportation solutions the roads are only going to get worse,” she said. “As long as we are afraid to talk about raising the gas tax, the repairs are not going to get done.”
“ADOT maintenance crews worked well into the spring patching and repairing potholes on I-17, I-40, and other state highways,” Harding said. “The maintenance crews also prioritized and repaired the worst areas with pavement spot repairs on ADOT highways over the summer and still continue into the fall.”
Most of the construction this summer was on I-40 west of Flagstaff, which was determined to be a top priority due to the roadway condition, Harding said. The department will continue to work on that area, between Parks and A-1 Mountain, next year beginning in spring.
The department is also planning a project on I-17 to mill down and repave 29 miles on the northbound side from Flagstaff extending south, Harding said. The project will be similar to the work done between Parks and A-1 Mountain.
“I-17 will get attention in the upcoming years as ADOT is committed to keeping Arizona’s northern highways in top condition despite the annual challenge of winter weather with 200 freeze-thaw cycles per year,” Harding said.
PAGE – Ecologist Mark Anderson still sometimes tears up thinking about March 3, 2013, when an adult quagga mussel was discovered — the definitive sign of a possible aquatic apocalypse — clinging to a boat hauled from the waters of Lake Powell.
“We had finally lost the long-fought battle,” Anderson said.
The adult quagga mussel finding, coming less than a year after microscopic mussels were first spotted, marked the end of more than a decade of attempts to keep the invasive species from taking over Lake Powell and cued the beginning of a new fight.
Experts deem it impossible to entirely eradicate the mussels from Lake Powell, a tourist destination that spans Utah and Arizona. The mussels latch on to the walls of Glen Canyon Dam and the hundreds of boats skimming the lake’s waters. If the mussels could not be removed from the lake, the experts concluded, at least they might contain the threat to keep it from spreading to other waters.
Clumps of quagga mussels damage the dam’s water flow, undercut an ecosystem for other aquatic species, cling to boat engines and cost millions of dollars to handle.
“It was a huge responsibility and honor to try and protect this lake. It is still a huge responsibility and honor to contain the quagga mussels here,” said Colleen Allen. She holds a distinctive title as a leader in the quagga mussel incursion: aquatic invasive species coordinator for Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
The quagga mussel, a freshwater mollusk that likely was unwittingly brought into Lake Powell by boat, have proven to be a small but mighty foe. Less than three years after finding that mussel, the invasion had spread throughout most of the 186 miles of Lake Powell. Today, quagga mussels can be found in every canyon crevice, Glen Canyon officials said.
Quagga mussels are prolific. They layer by the hundreds onto buoys, docks and boats on the lake, requiring 3,000 pounds of pressure and 140-degree water to remove, Allen said. Thousands of mussels are plastered on the walls of Glen Canyon Dam, disrupting the flow of water that provides hydroelectricity to several states including Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska. A A single mussel can also filter up to one liter of water a day – a process that removes oxygen and nutrients vital to the survival of other water creatures in the food chain, Anderson said.
More than $1 million a year has been spent on containment efforts since the infestation was first discovered, Allen said.
“It can totally flip the ecology of a place on its head,” Anderson said. “There are few things that you can do that are as damaging to a body of water than to bring something in that it’s never seen before.”
Organizations in Arizona, Utah and several other states are working together on containment efforts that include inspecting boats, educating boaters of the infestation, bolstering staff, levying costly fines to uncooperative boaters and investing in decontamination equipment.
Decontamination units, basically trailers filled with high-tech equipment boasting $700,000 price tags, are now at major marinas. Fines vary, but can reach $5,000 for boaters who don’t comply with the inspection and decontamination process.
All boats must be decontaminated when leaving and entering Lake Powell. Officials created a “clean, drain and dry” program to make sure a boat’s exterior and interior is completely dry before they go out on the water and once they return so the mussels aren’t transferred. Without water, the mussels have a short lifespan.
More than 400,000 boat launches and returns to marinas happen annually at Lake Powell, Allen said. In one busy day, a single marina at Lake Powell can experience more traffic than most lakes will in an entire weekend.
“These mussels don’t move themselves. It’s not like they pick up and walk from one body of water to the next,” said Anderson, who is also the branch chief of the aquatics program. “Boats have to move them.”
Launch ramp staff inspect every inch of boats for mussels and make sure plugs are pulled to allow for internal water to drain from the boat.
It took some time for boaters to warm up to the inspections and decontaminations, but now most realize the importance of the process, Allen said.
Inspections take less than 10 minutes for most smaller boats, but large houseboats that are usually brought to the side for inspection could take hours to fully decontaminate. On busy summer days, when lake-goers are eager to get onto the lake or return home after a long day on the water, the wait can be irritating.
“If you’re a boater, you should get on board with preventing the spread of it. It’s the right thing to do and in reality it doesn’t take that long,” said California resident and boater Mike DeNicola. Mike and his wife, Reggie, have visited Lake Powell for more than 25 years.
The inspection and decontamination process has never deterred them from returning.
Quagga mussels are even easier to transport unknowingly in their early life stages when they are undetectable to the human eye. Veligers, as they are called in their microscopic state, are about one tenth of a millimeter – one-tenth the thickness of a credit card, Anderson said.
One liter can contain hundreds of the microscopic mussels.
Veligers can easily slip past inspectors, hiding in water inside boat engines and other out-of-view places, becoming what lake staff call “aquatic hitchhikers.”
Cleaning, draining and drying a boat is the only real defense against transporting quagga mussels.
“We as man(kind) are the ones that move these species around, and we need to help folks understand that we can be part of the solution, not the problem,” Allen said.
Violent crimes are up in Flagstaff this year, and police are pointing the finger at street alcoholics.
In just the past four months, police are reporting a 23 percent increase in violent crime, with aggravated assault, sexual assault and robbery seeing the biggest spikes.
Street alcoholics, also called by police “public intoxicants” and “serial inebriates,” represent less than 1 percent of Flagstaff’s total population but are responsible for 33 percent of aggravated assaults, 34 percent of sexual assaults and 58 percent of robberies that occurred from January to August, according to crime data from the Flagstaff Police Department.
A serial inebriate is a person who has had 10 or more contacts with the police for public intoxication during the year.
Flagstaff Police Department Spokesman Sgt. Cory Runge said that an increase in violent crime near the end of summer was abnormal.
“These violent crimes represent a new trend in criminal activity in our community,” Runge said. “Typically we see increases every summer then decreases in the fall.”
Runge went on to state that the main victims and perpetrators of violent crimes were “homeless individuals with substance abuse issues.”
“Serial inebriates make up a small segment of our population but are involved in a significant number of violent crimes,” Runge said.
Police have responded to 146 reports of aggravated assault from January to October, an 18 percent increase from the same timeframe last year.
Police noted 118 reports of aggravated assault against law enforcement, firefighters and healthcare workers in 2017, a 51 percent increase from last year when police reported 78 aggravated assaults.
“A huge number of aggravated assaults are directed at the status of an individual,” Runge said. “Firefighters and healthcare workers in the emergency room are the biggest victims.”
An aggravated assault charge for hitting a public safety official requires a lower standard of physical contact than assaulting a regular citizen. Hitting or spitting on law enforcement is automatically aggravated assault while doing the same to a citizen may just constitute an assault charge.
Flagstaff Fire Department Deputy Chief Mark Wilson said the police department’s numbers are underreported since firefighters will most often choose not to press charges when they are assaulted.
“From a fire department perspective, those numbers are low if you compare the number of assaults we deal with vs. the number of reported assaults,” Wilson said. “Many times our firefighters choose not to press charges because we have limited resources and would rather not spend too much time dealing with an aggravated assault issue.”
Wilson said the majority of assault charges his department deals with involve serial inebriants.
“Most of the time we are dealing with an intoxicated person that we are physically taking to the hospital against their will because of their medical condition. A situation like that can make people combative,” Wilson said. “This is a very unhealthy population that makes up about 30 percent of our calls to service every year.”
Representatives from Northern Arizona Healthcare did not respond to multiple attempts for comment regarding aggravated assaults on healthcare workers.
Armed robberies in Flagstaff are up 125 percent from last year with 45 robberies reported this year. The majority of the robberies were committed against people, with five robberies committed against businesses.
Public intoxicants were involved in 58 percent of robberies this year as both victims and suspects. Alcohol or drugs were involved in 68 percent of all robberies.
Sunnyside has seen the most instances of violent crime, accounting for 17 percent of all violent crimes in Flagstaff.
However, Sunnyside has mostly seen a decrease in crime over the last 10 years, according to police data.
The Southside neighborhood accounts for 6.5 percent of violent crimes, a decrease from 2012, when the neighborhood accounted for 11.8 percent of all violent crime.
Police also noted several violent incidents that they believe could be linked to gang activity.
Runge said that five shootings and two stabbings over the last three months were gang-related. Police were able to identify gang-related incidents based upon physical descriptions and incidents where gang members mentioned their gang affiliation to the victims.
Arrests have been made in four of these seven incidents.