VALLE — "Just hurry and fix it, fellas."
Those were the final words heard from the audience Tuesday night during a public meeting regarding improvements to State Route 64. The Arizona Department of Transportation is in the beginning stages of a corridor study of the highway.
Jacobs Civil Inc.’s Brad Olbert, left, and ADOT’s George Wallace listen to concerns about State Route 64 from the audience during a public meeting in Valle Tuesday night.
"We’re looking at taking two years for identifying all needs for this corridor to come up with a plan to make improvements to the roadway," said Brad Olbert, project manager with Jacobs Civil Inc.
Olbert said the study will form the planning basis for ADOT’s long-range goals with needs to be determined along the corridor for the next 20 to 25 years. Mention of that timeframe drew gasps from the audience.
"That’s not necessarily 100 percent true. We’re building for the future, but I don’t think it’ll take 25 years to do something," ADOT roadway studies section manager George Wallace said. "I don’t know when it’s going to be."
Although the study will determine those long-range goals, Wallace added that short-term improvements would likely occur.
"We’ll look at opportunities for near-term, low-cost improvements that will solve at least some of the safety concerns out there," Wallace said. "If there are options to implement quickly at a low cost, we’ll push forward."
The meeting drew a good-sized crowd to the Valle airport, the apparent future site for such meetings. Public turnout at previous ADOT meetings in Tusayan and Williams drew few people.
Many shared their opinions of SR 64 with most revolving around safety concerns. One local resident showed grave concern over the death rate on the highway and wanted to see something done in the near future.
Olbert said most accidents on the highway involve animals.
"We looked at accidents over the last five years," Olbert said. "There were 535 accidents and of those, 42 percent were from animal strikes. That’s a lot."
Suggestions included the clearing of trees near the road to lowering the speed limit in certain areas at night. For example, there is heavy elk traffic once SR 64 enters Kaibab National Forest south of Tusayan.
"We do recognize there’s a problem," Olbert said. "We didn’t differentiate between night and day (with accident statistics) but a priority is the forest south of Tusayan. That’s a question we’ll be asking the Forest Service."
There have been two other studies recently involving SR 64. A few years ago, a corridor profile study from Williams to Cameron was completed. Most recently, a highway access study was done.
Out of those studies, many ideas were created, such as constructing five-lane areas with two passing lanes and lowering the speed limit in Valle to 35 mph.
In ADOT’s five-year plan, SR 64 has been identified as needing two passing lanes. Olbert said exact locations have not been determined for those passing lanes, adding that they would be north and south of Valle. Olbert did not known when such a project would materialize.
A few on hand feared the highway would ruin the experience for tourists driving to Grand Canyon.
"Keep in mind, this corridor provides a crown jewel national park," one man in the audience said. "I don’t want you to create a big, superspeed highway. It’s important to keep that in mind … maintaining natural qualities."
ADOT was scheduled to meet with various agencies Wednesday, including the National Park Service. The future of SR 64 and its compatibility with a future park transit system could be a factor in planning.
The project team was collecting comments at the Valle meeting to develop a range of feasible alternatives and determining preferences of the public. The next step for the study team will be to review comments and prepare a scoping report.
ADOT plans to come back to the public late this summer for another meeting revealing various alternatives. This fall, a pre-draft environmental assessment report will be made and another public meeting will occur close to December.
The draft EA will follow with a public hearing likely to occur to 2003. After a final EA is developed, then the process goes to the agency acceptance phase.
Surveyors have been on SR 64 in recent weeks identifying landmarks for record of survey purposes.
SR 64 projects would be financed through state funds with matching funds from the federal government. Those federal monies are raised through a gas tax that motorists pay at the pump.
• Brad Olbert, project manager, Jacobs Civil Inc., 875 W. Elliot Road, Suite 201, Tempe, AZ 85284. Olbert can be reached via e-mail at: email@example.com.
• Tami Wollaston, project monitor, ADOT predesign studies section, 1739 W. Jackson St., Mail Drop 050P, Phoenix, AZ 85007.