Highway 180 snowplay traffic

The headlights of cars heading south to Flagstaff form an unending string along Highway 180 on a Sunday evening in January.

In Flagstaff's snowplay news, the year started off with snow on the ground, setting off what has become a predictable pattern: hundreds of cars streaming into the Highway 180 corridor, hours-long traffic backups, snowplayers crowding local roads and neighborhoods, and overwhelmed public safety officials. Facing mounting complaints and frustration, Coconino County Supervisor Art Babbott made a new push for solutions to Flagstaff’s snowplay gridlock. He called a community meeting to brainstorm ideas, then gathered residents, businesses and local agencies into longer term task forces to move forward on viable solutions.

Some of those ideas will be fleshed out in a transportation plan being compiled by the Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority. The plan will look at ideas like increasing bus service along Highway 180, limiting highway access to residents and buses during busy times and creating alternate routes to exit the corridor that don’t involve going through Flagstaff.

The Coconino County Board of Supervisors took its own action on the issue, adopting an ordinance change that makes it illegal for anyone to park their car along county roads in the winter. While it applies county-wide, most of the signage for the ordinance will be installed in neighborhoods in the Highway 180 corridor. On a parallel track, the Arizona Department of Transportation installed new signs along a 9-mile section of Highway 180 to discourage snowplayers from parking along the road shoulder. The signs read “Emergency Parking Only.”

Two other closures will limit snowplay opportunities north of Flagstaff even more. Wing Mountain Snow Play Area announced this summer that it would not operate this winter, and the Forest Service will block access to the cinder pits and 500 off-highway parking spaces. The Forest Service also decided it will close the parking lot at Crowley Pit, an undeveloped snowplay site on the national forest, this winter. With the closure of Wing Mountain, the agency knows that even more traffic will be pushed to Crowley Pit, causing unsafe conditions at the 50-car-capacity area, Coconino National Forest spokesman Brady Smith wrote in an email.

Emery Cowan can be reached at (928) 556-2250 or ecowan@azdailysun.com


Environment, Health and Science Reporter

Emery Cowan writes about science, health and the environment for the Arizona Daily Sun, covering everything from forest restoration to endangered species recovery efforts.

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