Would expanding Highway 180 alleviate winter gridlock, or is the solution creating an alternate route? Would an extra lane on Milton Road help commuters move faster?
Those are the questions the Arizona Department of Transportation has set out to answer while creating the U.S. 180 and Milton Road master plans, which will include a 20-year vision for each of the ADOT-controlled roads.
ADOT Project Manager Dan Gabiou and Kevin Kugler, a project manager for Michael Baker International, a consultant hired for the planning process, presented the goals and projected timeline for the planning process to the Flagstaff City Council Tuesday evening. The two also looked for feedback from the councilmembers about their visions for the two corridors and what they would like to see in future plans.
ADOT has partnered with the Flagstaff Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transit Authority, the U.S. Forest Service, Northern Arizona University and other stakeholders to create the master plans.
The goals identified for both projects include determining the 20-year vision for each area. The Milton plan includes the section of Milton between Forest Meadows Street until it turns into Route 66 at Butler Avenue and continues to the intersection of Route 66 and Beaver Street. The U.S. 180 plan begins at the intersection of Humphreys Street and Route 66 and continues up to Crowley Pit.
At the meeting, some councilmembers expressed worry that once the plan is completed, solutions proposed may be cost prohibitive and not lead to any real changes.
“My major concern is we go through the planning processes and the documents sit on a shelf,” said Mayor Coral Evans.
Evans said the community is frustrated with Milton’s problems, like heavy traffic and long wait times at lights. However, she said she would not want to use the city’s transportation tax revenue to fund a fix on an ADOT-controlled road unless there were a “true partnership.”
The city created a commission to discuss creating one or more questions on the 2018 ballot to extend or possibly increase the city’s sales tax, which pays for transportation improvements.
“We as a city have major transportation needs that are not tied to a state highway,” Evans said.
One of the questions posed to the council was whether the city wanted to preserve or enhance the character of the Milton corridor.
“I’m not quite sure Milton has a character,” Evans said. “If we could create a sense of place or a vibe that ‘you have arrived in this really cool town,’ that would help.”
Councilman Scott Overton said the financial realities of lane capacity and the structure of Milton Road are “probably pretty unlikely” due to the cost associated with widening the street, like acquiring property along the road. Overton suggested alternatives to simply widening the road, like adding a median to prohibit left turns in sections or lanes dedicated for only transit.
Vice Mayor Jamie Whelan said she would like to see the process include data that has been compiled from other studies about the corridors. There has been a lot of data and study dedicated to both Milton and U.S. 180, Whelan said, and the new master plan should also consolidate data generated from previous studies.
Councilwoman Eva Putzova said she would like the planning team to consider solutions that do not involve engineering, and focus on social and behavioral changes. Most of the congestion on Milton is during regular commuting times, and a change in behavior, like alternate modes of transportation or a social change, like staggered hours for starting and ending the work day, could help alleviate the gridlock, she said.
Gabiou and Kugler will present to the Coconino County Board of Supervisors at the meeting December 12. The two are planning to host a public open house in either January or February 2018.