Joe Tabback, owner of Sedona’s KAZM radio station, was before the Big Park Regional Coordinating Council last month to speak in favor on the Arizona Department of Transportation’s plans for improving Arizona 179.
ADOT, under its current design, has plans to widen the existing two-lane highway to a four-and-five lane from south of the Village of Oak Creek to the Sedona "Y." Tabback supports ADOT’s plan and is speaking publicly out opposing the Voice of Choice’s contention that the highway should be an improved two-lane instead of ADOT’s Alternate C.
The Voice of Choice began as a whisper last spring growing into a groundswell of opposition and have been lobbying ADOT officials for more studies in favor of an improved two-lane highway with appropriate turnouts and left-turn lanes. Tabback, the well-known radio personality, doesn’t agree and as part of a new coalition with the Sedona-Verde Valley Republican Men’s Club told council members he wanted to say "something positive about what ADOT wants to do."
Tabback, told the group, "There’s got to be another voice — for safety."
Both Tabback, a former vice president and president-elect Dick Smiley of the Republican men’s club attended the Village council meeting. Tabback later said that that since he’s began speaking out in favor of the highway plans, he’s received many calls and "no one disagrees" with the proposed plan.
"The situation is ridiculous. We’re throwing obstacles at ADOT; the issue is safety. Talk to the police and the school bus drivers."
He told the council that in conversations with the law enforcement and school people, they are "scared" with the near misses along the existing 179. He also said locals need to look at the issue from ADOT’s perspective; that the planning for improvements is part of a five-year plan not to be taken lightly. He suggested people recall what happened in West Sedona when there was an attempt to widen 89A several years ago.
Back in the 80s, he said, there were plans to make 89A in West Sedona a four-lane highway to accommodate increased traffic. Faced with ongoing criticism from certain individuals in the unincorporated area, ADOT left with its money for Lake Havasau. He said that move cost Sedona a long wait, because the request had to get back on ADOT’s five-year planning schedule.
"Everyone realized that the visitors kept coming and in greater quantities, which is what is happening to us today," he said.
Last fall, the Voice of Choice group submitted petitions to ADOT with 3,000 signatures opposing the new roadway plan and have repeatedly complained that the "super highway" will destroy the pristine beauty of the roadway leading into Sedona. Tabback doesn’t agree.
"The beauty of the area is here and will be for a long time. It would be hard to destroy it. If we keep throwing an image of discontent, it will go away," Tabback later commented referring to ADOT’s Alternate C plan. "You can see more beauty with a wider road," he told council members.
Tabback took council members back to his first days as a visitor in Sedona in 1971 and how similar 179 looked then as it does today in spite of increased visitors to the area.
"It was the same width as it is today. There were no white lines and it was only chip sealed. In the five days here I think I didn’t see five cars, and the road is still the same width."
According to current Sedona Chamber of Commerce figures, Sedona now has 3.5 to 4 million visitors annually.
Tabback said the new coalition movement favoring ADOT’s plans came about when he talked to Bill Feldmeir, Northern Arizona’s representative to Gov. Jane Hull. Tabback said that Feldmeir indicated that the only words ADOT is currently hearing are those opposing the roadway. Tabback said he brought the news back to his club about a month ago and they have since formed the coalition.
Both Tabback and Smiley addressed the ongoing complaints about the current bottleneck at the dead-end of 179 in Sedona, the "Y," indicating that ADOT’s design will include improvements to accommodate more favorable turn options toward West Sedona. Many opposed to the new four-and-five lane highway into Sedona have argued that the wider highway could not accommodate the influx of traffic at the "Y."
Tabback said that he hopes to see ADOT move forward and to get away from all the ongoing requests for additional studies and environmental planning that the VOCC is demanding. Recently, the Sedona City Council approved a national engineering consultant to take yet another look at the entire 179 matter. ADOT will pay the tab, according to City Clerk Marie Brown.
"The fact is it’s a safety issue and we need to make it safer. How they make it safer is up to them. We have to have faith in ADOT and cannot continue to distrust them."
Similar to Tabback’s stand on the matter, the Sedona Village Business Association recently wrote ADOT officials on the 179 issue. In a letter from Chair Gary Hofmann dated Dec. 13 to Don Dorman, an ADOT official in Flagstaff, Hofmann stated that the business group was "worried that your current dialogue with various groups in Sedona has possibly given you the impression the majority of citizens in our area opposed the ADOT plan. We believe most of our citizens recognize the need for improvement, particularly for safety reasons to Highway 179. We hope you will not become discouraged in your quest and will in fact move forward with a reasonable plan."
Hofmann said he was concerned that ADOT will "march with the money" and is fearful of a strategy carried on by certain groups, such as the Voice of Choice group, will force ADOT to pull out in favor of other areas who want and need highway improvements.
Hofmann told the Big Park Council that the intent of the letter was to encourage ADOT to continue discussions and to "end up with something that makes sense."
Tabback said coalition members hope to meet with ADOT officials soon letting them know that there is support for ADOT’s widening design plan.
Although the Big Park Council has yet to take a stand one way or the other on ADOT’s Alternate C plan that affects the main highway going through the Village of Oak Creek, the council did agreed to poll its membership on the matter. The council consists of several homeowners’ associations and one business group, the Sedona Village Business Association.