CAMP VERDE - In the early morning hours of New Years Eve 2004, Robin Robbins was traveling from Camp Verde to Cottonwood when he veered across State Route 260 into oncoming traffic.
His vehicle struck and killed William Hutchinson, a minister from Cottonwood, and two of his sons. A 19-year-old from Cottonwood, driving in another vehicle, was also killed.
It was a tragedy that many felt never should have happened, not only because Robbins was found to have been under the influence of drugs, but also because the roadway itself was unsafe.
Since the 1980s, residents of Cottonwood, Clarkdale, Jerome and Camp Verde had lobbied for a four-lane road. Numerous traffic deaths bore out their concerns.
Throughout the spring and summer of 2005, an attempt was made to get the road widened. In fact, Supervisor Chip Davis had already laid the groundwork six moths prior to the accident, arranging to have the county finance it and to have ADOT move the project forward on its 5-year plan.
But the two sides could never reach a compromise. Camp Verde property owners wanted access to the roadway. The communities of the upper valley wanted unimpeded access to Interstate 17.
By 2007, plans to widen the corridor between Camp Verde and Cottonwood had been scuttled and a new plan that included safety improvements in the Camp Verde end and a bifurcated roadway in the first two miles outside of Cottonwood was put in place.
Widening SR 260 has remained a dead issue since.
Last month, Camp Verde Town Manager Russ Martin decided the time had come to open the discussion back up. Although safety remains a concern, Martin also sees the roadway as part of Camp Verde's economic development strategy.
"Mel (Preston, economic development director) and I have been talking about what are the types of things that need to be done, economic development-wise. And we think 260 is one of the key components that we must start to address," said Martin.
Three weeks ago Martin and Preston met with their counterparts in Cottonwood and Clarkdale, not only to get a history lesson but also to get a feel for community attitudes, five years later.
Martin and Preston have also been meeting with property owners along the corridor between Camp Verde and Cottonwood.
"I feel pretty good. We have tried to touch as many bases as we can and to let them know we feel it is important. We let them know we wanted something that was safe and something the other communities can accept," said Martin.
Cottonwood City Manger Doug Bartosh says he welcomes the effort from Camp Verde and hopes a workable compromise can be reached this time around.
"We are very interested in getting it back on the table again and getting the funding allocated to get it done.
"Hopefully there is a compromise if we all sit down again and figure out how to meet everyone's needs. I think everyone has paid the price for a lack of agreement," said Bartosh.
County Supervisor Chip Davis says he is encouraged, once again.
"I'm glad to see it. There are a lot of moving parts to make it happen. I'm going in with a positive attitude," said Davis.
The Arizona Department of Transportation Board, the body that ultimately decides what projects will be funded, will meet in Camp Verde on Friday, Aug. 17, at the Camp Verde Schools Multi Use facility. Representatives from the valley communities will attend.1998: After nearly a decade of lobbying, the widening of State Route 260 makes it onto the Arizona Department of Transportation's five-year plan.
1999: Design work begins for a four lane bifurcated roadway to run between Western Drive in Cottonwood and SR2 60's intersection with Interstate 17 in Camp Verde.
2000: ADOT completes an environmental assessment
2001: An access management plan is developed to make the roadway a "limited access" road. Designation of specific access point is left for the final design phase
2002 to 2004: Because of a vigorous freeway-building campaign in Maricopa County, ADOT repeatedly lacks the estimated $40 million to widen SR 260.
July 2004: Supervisor Chip Davis, after over a year spent lobbying his fellow supervisors and ADOT, signs an agreement with ADOT, whereby Yavapai County will loan the state the money to widen State Route 260, through the sale of county bonds. The agreement pushes the widening project to the top of ADOT's priority list. It is contingent on a consensus roadway design.
Winter-Spring 2004-2005: Representatives of the Town of Camp Verde tell community leaders in upper valley that they can live with just seven access points in the seven miles of roadway through the town. Landowners along the corridor quickly rebut the offer, complaining the offer shut down access to their land and make it difficult and costly to develop.
June 2005: Yavapai County agrees to pay $160,000 to fund a revised Access Management Plan after property owners along SR260
July 2005: A public involvement process begins to establish the access points. It becomes apparent from the beginning that neither side unwilling to give on the number of access points. Discussion reemerges of a "Forest Alignment" route that would reroute SR260 across Forest Service land, from Thousand Trails to the I-17/General Crook interchange, at some point in the future. The idea does not move the discussion along.
November 2005: ADOT presents three options for access management, but disagreements over access points in the area where Camp Verde borders Cottonwood ultimately bring the discussions to a halt.
June 2006: Supervisor Davis sends a letter to ADOT effectively throwing in the towel on the 260-widening project, opting instead to build a bifurcated four-lane road from Western Drive to Thousand Trails, along with safety improvements and passing lanes between Thousand trails and I-17. Construction began in 2008.
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