Expanding Highway 64<br>to 4 lanes not bad idea

Coming home to Grand Canyon Friday night was not a fun experience.

There were obviously many people who had spent the day in the park and after darkness enveloped the Canyon, many left to continue their travels or go home.

With my 6-year-old son sleeping in the passenger seat, I took more than one glance over to make sure he still had on his seat belt. Not only was I jumpy about the elk you can often see near the road, but also the barrage of cars coming at me.

And even though it was after sundown, there were still cars headed to Grand Canyon, many who seemed to be in a hurry and exceeded the speed limit while passing me.

The Arizona Department of Transportation is accepting public comment until this Friday for a corridor design study. For those with a viewpoint on any side of the issue, make it known.

Early last month, ADOT and Jacobs Civil Inc., met with area residents in a public meeting at Valle. There was pretty good turnout at the meeting and most seemed to be concerned about safety.

Most everyone I know whom travels State Route 64 on a regular basis has horror stories about a near-accident or encounter with wildlife.

According to a press release issued by Grand Canyon Trust (presented at right), ADOT is seeking to make the route between Williams and Grand Canyon into a superhighway consisting of four lanes.

Although ADOT's George Wallace or Jacobs' Brad Olbert did not go into any detail of a four-lane highway at the Valle meeting, I believe the idea has some merit.

Grand Canyon Trust's intentions are always good and they seek a review of alternatives and a full environmental scoping process with public involvement when it comes to any SR 64 changes. That sounds great, but I personally don't agree with some of their viewpoints.

The area of the highway that troubles me is the section going through the forest and into Tusayan. That's where the majority of vehicle-wildlife accidents occur.

Go talk to ADOT about a study that was done on that issue. Talk to Jim Robertson of the Department of Public Safety. Go talk to Robbie Evans of the Tusayan Fire Department. They'll tell you about some accidents.

I could envision a highway with four lanes running from past the Red Lake convenience store north of Williams to the Kaibab National Forest boundary heading into the forest where many of those accidents occur.

There are also plenty of elk hanging around the highway between I-40 and the Red Lake store. And there is also a growing population of residents who try to blend into traffic or make turns off the highway.

Therefore, perhaps it would be best to keep the highway at two lanes with turning lanes in those areas. Keep folks slowed down a bit (although that probably won't work in many cases) to avoid wildlife and folks hauling water or heading into town for groceries.

After a four-lane highway the rest of the way to Valle and then up to the forest boundary, change it back to two lanes through the wildlife zone.

Maybe one of those electronic message signs could be put up when it goes back to two lanes that always says, "Extreme wildlife conditions ahead. Elk, deer sighted. Drive with caution."

Now I realize the idea of four-lane highways and electronic message signs do not fit in with everyone's idea of a trip to Grand Canyon. Some hope that it will be a special experience.

The sad truth is that although a few take in the countryside on the way to the Canyon, most are in a big hurry to get to the park, see the grand gorge and continue on to Las Vegas or wherever.

I see a four-lane highway on most of this route eliminating the passing nightmares. Because no matter what you do, if the highway stays at two lanes, tourists going to the Canyon are going to exceed the speed limit. It'll always happen.

If a plan is put into place calling for more turning lanes and passing lanes, it may help. But then there will probably be the same type of problems we have now another 20 years down the road. Why not do what we can now to fix the problem with a long-term solution?

Grand Canyon visitation really might reach some of those projections we hear about every once in a while. In fact, I'd venture to gamble that the vehicle traffic in the park will be up considerably this year. I think Americans might be nixing plane travel and international vacations in favor of making that trip in the family car to the Grand Canyon.

Terrorism is not going to go away. This trend of private vehicle travel could be around for a while.

The GC Trust makes some interesting arguments about roadside sprawl, wildlife concerns, cost projections, population growth and water pipelines.

Those may be valid points. All I know is I'm just your average driver with a kid trying to stay alive on this highway.

And while these issues are wrapped up in environmental reviews and scoping sessions, we might be losing more lives.

There's nothing I hate more about newspaper reporting than writing about somebody losing their life on SR 64.

I say we do what it takes to make this highway safe. If four lanes is the answer and it's realistic, go for it. If it's not realistic, keep trying.

For those who want to comment, you need to hurry. Brad Olbert of Jacobs Civil Inc., can be reached via e-mail at: brad.olbert@jacobs.com.

(Brad Fuqua is editor of the Grand Canyon News).

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