Voice of Choice proposes less <br>intrusive highway improvements

A petition with 1,300 signatures has been sent to the Arizona Department of Transportation regarding its preferred alternate for the Arizona 179 widening project. The proposed widening project involves four- and five-lane options along 179, starting south of the Village of Oak Creek and running to the "Y" in Sedona.

The Voice of Choice Coalition, which sprouted its wings at Keep Sedona Beautiful, but does not represent KSB or any other organization, has strong feelings about a super highway, according to spokesperson Dick Ellis. The coalition recently sent the petition suggesting changes to ADOT’s plan. Ellis said the coalition is made up people from different walks of life and organizations, and has been meeting for three months. Ellis sits on the KSB board, as well as that of the coalition.

"We have a lot of people from the Village and many from Sedona," he said.

According to Ellis, the petition that went to ADOT three weeks ago states, "A simpler , slower scenic road will eliminate the need for sound barrier walls and removal of established trees along the roadsides. Improvements to SR 179 should maintain the scenic beauty and improve the safety of the existing two-lane highway by adding appropriate turnouts and turn lanes to improve residential and business access, widening and stabilizing shoulders to allow movement of traffic during emergencies and allow traffic to yield to emergency vehicles, adding plenty of pullouts for photo opportunities, adding safe pedestrian and bicycle lanes."

Ellis said the coalition’s concerns are little different from the Village to Sedona.

"The only place we’re in agreement with the four-lane concept is through the Village because it’s almost there anyway. We’re only in agreement to have one lane of traffic in each direction and the other two lanes for turning only," Ellis explained. "Turn lanes could improve the capacity of the road up to 30 percent," he said.

Ellis went on to say, ADOT recently announced five lanes from Back-O-Beyond to the "Y."

"That’s an awfully wide road — an interstate sized road. Other cities have found that four lanes do not work and have reverted to two lanes because of traffic capacity and traffic safety. What we’ve suggested in the Sedona area is adding eight-foot wide shoulders and center left turning lanes at intersections."

A technical ADOT meeting on the proposed widening project is scheduled for Aug. 15. According to Ellis, when asked if two or three members from the coalition could attend, ADOT officials said "no" and that it would be "inappropriate to show up." Ellis said he was told it’s a meeting of technical people to learn the project and make the design bids accordingly.

Joanne Johnson said some members of a group that is an offshoot of the Village roadway group will be in attendance at that technical meeting. Some members of that group are also on the coalition.

Ellis said the coalition has been attempting to go straight to the top in order to be heard. "Three weeks ago we contacted Victor Mendez, deputy director of ADOT. We wanted to meet with him. He has not responded. We want someone responsible to the public," Ellis said.

ADOT has scheduled an open house for Aug. 25-26 for residents to learn details about the preferred alternative for Arizona 179 (see related story).

When contacting George Wallace, ADOT’s pre-design manager, about the coalition’s petition, he responded, "We got petitions opposing the project back when the public hearing took place in the winter of 1999. We got some petitions a couple of weeks ago basically asking us to scale the project back. We’ve had numerous letters opposing and some in favor. We are going to be there to answer questions about Alternative C as presented in that public meeting. We’re not there to debate. We’ve revised some horizontal and vertical alignments that reduce the amount of cuts and fills and the need for some retaining walls. It may reduce the impact of any noise walls being considered in Sedona."

Wallace went on to say, "We have not changed anything through the Village and sections through the forest on Arizona 179 from the original concept of the public hearing in 1999."

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