No Parking along Highway 180

The Arizona Department of Transportation has installed new signs along nine miles of Highway 180 that inform drivers that parking on the shoulder of the highway is allowed only in emergency situations. It is one of several changes going into effect this winter that will affect snowplayers in the popular Highway 180 corridor. 

Jake Bacon, Arizona Daily Sun

Snowplayers will no longer be able to park their cars along county roads in the winter under an ordinance revision passed by the Coconino County Board of Supervisors this week.

The new law applies to all county-maintained rights-of-way and is in effect Nov. 1 through April 1. But it is aimed mainly at neighborhoods in the Highway 180 corridor inundated by snowplayers on many winter weekends. 

Other changes going into effect this winter will put even more squeeze on snowplay in the Highway 180 corridor:

  • 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 has decided it will close the parking lot at Crowley Pit, an undeveloped snowplay site on the national forest, this winter.
  • 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.”
  • The Arizona Department of Public Safety plans to enforce ADOT’s new signs using “whatever manpower we have available,” spokesman Bart Graves said in an email. Graves said DPS will work to “heavily enforce” parking violations in the Highway 180 corridor during the first few busy weekends so people will expect the same into the future.
  • The county will again install temporary barricades at local roads along Highway 180 to prevent nonlocal traffic from entering the corridor’s neighborhoods.

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. Smith also wrote that there are no resources or concessionaires to manage the area, so it wouldn’t be wise or safe to keep it open. Additionally, the Forest Service wants to see if closing Crowley Pit will help alleviate traffic concerns on Highway 180, Smith wrote.

The changes could mean more traffic funnels into remaining snowplay sites around Flagstaff, including the Flagstaff Snow Park at Fort Tuthill County Park and the Walker Lake Watchable Wildlife parking areas just off Highway 180. Farther west, the owners of Arizona Snowbowl have purchased Elk Ridge Ski Area near Williams with plans to offer skiing, tubing and snowshoeing opportunities.

MORE CARS, MORE PROBLEMS

The county’s ordinance addresses the cars that pull off on the sides of roads and highways outside of designated snowplay areas.

Those cars, which can stretch for miles up Highway 180 on snowy days, are creating congestion and causing problems with litter, trespassing, private property damage and hostile confrontations, county staff reported.

Coconino County Supervisor Matt Ryan said he heard about people barbecuing in the middle of the road in Kachina Village. Brian Furuya, one of the county’s attorneys, noted instances of people building fires on private land, leaving trash and demanding to use local residents’ bathrooms.

The problems are the worst in residential areas in the Highway 180 corridor, around Kachina Trail in Kachina Village and in Munds Park, according to county staff.

Previously, the county's winter parking ordinance applied only to cars that were in the way of snow removal operations. The decision to expand the ban to all cars parked on the side of county roads during the winter came out of “hundreds and hundreds of hours” of conversations with community members and law enforcement, Coconino County Supervisor Art Babbott said. Babbott organized a public forum on snowplay traffic in March and followed that with the creation of a Highway 180 task force and additional meetings to hash out possible solutions to the gridlock problem.

“The objective is to balance winter recreation visitation and our existing quality of life and neighborhood quality of life issues,” Babbott said.

In the longer term, the task force wants to create and improve more off-highway parking options like the Peak View Winter Recreation and Parking Area, Babbott said.

He called snowplay traffic, and the safety and environmental problems associated with it, the most challenging issue in his district outside of wildland fire and forest health.

ENFORCEMENT

With the passage of the revised winter parking ordinance, the county is making new signs — a total of 80 — that will display the time period when parking is prohibited and will be placed in certain high traffic areas, said Lucinda Andreani, director of the county’s public works department. Andreani said the cost to manufacture and install the new signs and remove old ones will be about $50,000, which works out to about $625 per new sign.

The new ordinance will go into effect 30 days from Tuesday unless challenged. While the winter parking ban applies countywide, drivers will only be cited and fined in sections of the county where the signs are posted.

Still uncertain, however, is whether those who violate the parking ban will actually see consequences. Coconino County Sheriff Jim Driscoll said that at current staffing levels, his deputies won’t be able to effectively enforce the new law and he doesn’t see those staffing levels changing anytime soon. He said he would be open to partnering or contracting with other agencies to boost enforcement.

Even so, Driscoll repeatedly expressed his support for the new winter parking ordinance.

“We support having one more tool to try to help address the traffic problem,” he said at an August meeting.

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

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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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