Voice of Choice continues fight for less intrusive 179 improvements

The Arizona Department of Transportation is facing an uphill battle, or so it seems.

ADOT, who recently hosted an open house Aug. 25-26 at the Best Western Hotel in Sedona to show off its current design plans for a four-five lane improved Arizona 179, may find itself squaring off with a group diametrically opposed to the design.

The Voice of Choice for 179, a newly formed local coalition demanding less intrusive 179 improvements, is giving ADOT a run for its money. The grass-roots organization appears to be gaining momentum in its fight to stop what they declare to be a proposed “superhighway” into Sedona. ADOT has plans to widen 179 between the Village and the Sedona “Y.”

The coalition, according to key organizer Dick Ellis, now has between 2,500-3,000 signatures on a petition opposing the proposed roadway improvement. He said additional names were gathered recently at the group’s town hall meeting held Aug. 21 and its subsequent open house in a room opposite ADOT.

Although the group favors turn lanes and pull-off areas with wider shoulders, they oppose much of ADOT’s improved highway plan. They opt instead for a well-designed two-lane highway, according to Villager Gail Shaw. Shaw, who sits on the coalition’s steering committee, said she’s “terrified” of ADOT plan.

According to Shaw, the group is appalled, as are others, that ADOT with its proposed $44 million project did not perform an Environmental Impact Statement. She said according to many transportation experts, it is “precedent” setting. She said ADOT provided an environmental assessment only, a “lesser study.”

Karen Dilks, the manager of the Hillside and Hozho, wants ADOT to rethink its approach.

“What I’m hoping they’ll do is work with the Federal Highway Administration, which put out a guideline on Flexibility in Highway Design. It encourages state highway transportation engineers to work with landscape architects and environmental specialists to preserve the scenic beauty of an area,” Dilks said.

As residents viewed ADOT’s design plans at its recent open house in August, Voice of Choice officials invited the same residents into another room that was nearby to see the group’s alternate two-lane proposal.

“We don’t profess to be highway designers. There all types of efficient roads designed by various transportation departments and it has been proven that properly designed two-lane highways can carry the necessary capacity,” Shaw said.

Ellis said the group has started a letter-writing campaign and according to Shaw, the coalition is encouraging residents to write, fax and e-mail their legislatures, council members, the governor and ADOT officials on a weekly basis with the same basic message opposing the current design.

Shaw said the group plans to present a letter signed by 400 people to Governor Jane Hull or her representative sometime this week. Hull is expected in the Village at the Doubletree Resort Hotel at the Governor’s Rural Conference. The group hopes for a private meeting with the state’s top official.

“We are involved in a struggle to maintain the beauty of the area around Sedona,” the letter starts out.

It goes on to suggest, ADOT’s plan lacks sensitivity to the environment, destroying the rural ambiance; a two-lane road with wider shoulders and more turn-outs should be considered; that safety issues need to be considered; that the nationally recognized area will be striped of its vegetation; that higher speeds on the new highway would require provisions for left-turns across traffic with assistance of signal lights negating any gains made by speed, filling the air with fumes from idling cars.

The letter urges the Governor to intercede by requesting the Federal Highway Administration to perform an Environmental Impact Statement.

Shaw said the group has also recently kicked off a yellow-ribbon campaign. The ribbons, she said, mourn the loss of trees that will be clear-cut 30 feet either side of the roadway if the ADOT proposal goes through.

“One of the beauties of the current roadway are the trees that hug the highway,” Dilks added.

The coalition members indicate they are not getting involved with the ADOT improvements through the Village and are placing the issue in the hands of Village officials.

According to Joanne Johnson, Villager officials want a meeting with ADOT on the proposed Village changes.

“Even though it’s actually an urban road with curb and gutter and two lanes in both directions, we would like it designated for one lane of through traffic only. Outside lanes would be turn lanes. We are going along with the bifurcated (divided) design, just north of the Village, except that we want some more guard rails to reduce clear-cuts. We are asking for a reduction in the speed limit in the business section from 40 m.p.h. to 30 or 35 m.p.h. and the same for the bifurcated area. Lower speeds reduce the need for sound walls,” Johnson said.

Sound walls are proposed in front of the Oak Creek Estados Condominiums and on the Village of OakCreek Association’s landscaped easement east of 179.

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