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Flagstaff City Council reviews plans for $7.4M Beulah/University road improvement project
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Flagstaff City Council reviews plans for $7.4M Beulah/University road improvement project

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The Flagstaff City Council was shown last month preliminary plans for a $7.4 million roadway project that will include a quarter mile of new road, an undercrossing beneath Milton Road and a roundabout connecting Beulah Boulevard and University Drive.

According to the city, the project is an important step in decreasing traffic congestion on Milton Road.

The Beulah/University roadway project is the latest phase in a three-way public-private partnership between the City of Flagstaff, the Arizona Department of Transportation and Vintage Partners, a private developer.

City project manager David Pedersen shared preliminary designs for the roadway project with Council last month as the planning phase moves closer to completion. Discussions largely centered around the roundabout and the pedestrian underpass.

“Perhaps the most unique portion of this project is the pedestrian underpass,” Pedersen told Council.

The 114-foot tunnel will be 20 feet wide and 10 feet tall -- which is nearly three times longer than the Sheep’s Crossing tunnel the city recently completed beneath the I-17, according to Pedersen. Developers plan to build the tunnel using precast concrete.

“To aid with this significant construction task the concrete will come precast in sections,” Pedersen said. “This helps to expedite construction as well as minimize closure of Milton during construction.”

As currently designed, the tunnel will be accessible from either side of the north end of the intersection, replacing the two adjacent east-west crossings on Milton Road. While that could certainly help to mitigate traffic congestion, there were concerns that removing the crosswalks could prove problematic.

Councilmember Austin Aslan suggested the tunnel be relocated to be made accessible from all four corners of the intersection.

“I think this pedestrian undercrossing is going to be so wildly popular and everyone is going to be excited to have this amenity in place,” Aslan said. “On day one when people realize they are going to have to cross the street to go under the street, I think it is going to be a really big buzzkill.”

Multi-modal transportation planner Martin Ince said changes to the undercrossing are something the city could look into, though it remains unclear the associated costs or efforts that would go into that change.

“I do share the concern that even though we have an underpass we are closing a crossing on Milton,” Ince said.

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He said only having the option of using the tunnel to cross Milton late at night could pose a safety concern for those that might not feel comfortable using the tunnel during less popular hours.

The tunnel, while a major component, is only one of many transportation improvements planned for the project.

Improvements are also planned along University Drive and Beulah Bouvard, including the new stretch of roadway that will extend Beulah a quarter mile north. Plans include dedicated bus lanes, urban trails, landscaped medians, a pedestrian street crossing and on-street bike lanes.

But Council was largely unsatisfied with the current bike lane design, favoring instead a separated bike lane that would likely be adjacent to the sidewalks. Ince said it was a feasible request.

“It works pretty well in this case. It would essentially be a matter of reallocating space,” Ince said.

Ince said he believes there is a way to continue the dedicated bike lanes through the roundabout, which currently features shared pedestrian and bicycle crossings. He suggested separating the bicycle and pedestrian crossings.

“There are good designs for that which are used in other countries. I don’t think its been done in this country yet to the best of my knowledge, but it is a relatively easy modification to how a roundabout works,” Ince said.

The roadway project comes as the most recent phase of the same partnership that saw Vintage relocate the Arizona Department of Transportation campus to the former Harkins Theatres building. The final phase of the agreement is to build a 1,200-bed student housing complex on Milton Road known as the Mill Town development.

The roadway project itself dates back more than 20 years, when in 2000 the city passed a transportation tax to extend Beulah Boulevard and realign University Avenue to remedy the current disconnect on either side of Milton Road.

Because the previous location of the ADOT campus was in the path of the road realignment, the city sought a private partner, Vintage, to move the facility in exchange for the land plus the adjacent city-owned parcel.

The city collected $7.375 million from the tax to pay for the road realignment and the new connection.

At its most recent July 6 meeting, city council gave the OK for the city to acquire additional space from nearby parking lots needed to complete the project.

Beulah/University roundabout plans

The preliminary designs for an extension of Beulah Boulevard that will connect with University Road at the roundabout shown in the graphic. An estimated $7.4 million is budgeted for the project.

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