Commentary: New roads a double-edged sword of solving problems, and creating them

If all goes as planned, there will be a new option in getting from Point A to Point B in the Verde Valley about 10 years from now.

Last week, Yavapai County’s Verde Valley representatives on the board of supervisors – Randy Garrison and Tom Thurman – announced that the long-discussed extension of Beaverhead Flat Road to a connection with Arizona 260 between Cottonwood and Camp Verde had moved beyond the talking stages.

Money is being spent to assess the best options of where exactly the path and connection point will be. This is definitely a step in the direction that this project is a go.

Of course, there are all kinds of roadblocks when it comes to building roads. Think back to all the hoops Cottonwood and the county had to jump through to extend Mingus Avenue to Cornville Road. As was the case with the Mingus Avenue extension, the Beaverhead Flat extension will involve a bridge crossing over the Verde River.

Likewise, a big part of the delays with the Mingus Avenue extension came on the environmental front in the form of the endangered cliff rose, which, ironically there seems to be no shortage of in the Verde Valley. Fully expect to see environmental challenges with this new road as well.

Economic opportunists can also be counted on to play politics with the route this road will take and where it connects with 260. Think back to the first round of the plan to expand Arizona 260 from two to four lanes. It became a tug of war over conflicting philosophies that 260 should be a transportation corridor vs. Camp Verde’s position that it was a highway of economic opportunity for the town.

Again, expect more of that debate. As Supervisor Garrison noted last week, because much of this roadway could weave its way through Yavapai-Apache Nation land holdings, “The Nation’s input and support will be vital to this project, as well as possible funding opportunities. I have discussed the importance access to this area will be not only for health and safety, but economic development as well.”

But getting back to the Point A to Point B discussion, there will surely be discussions about the final northerly destination of this road. It’s the upper end of Arizona 179 leading into the Village of Oak Creek, which bottlenecks at the Sedona “Y.” Garrison soon will attempt to sell his vision for the road with both the Big Park Community Coordinating Council as well as the VOC-based Sedona Village Business Association.

Whether it’s a direct shot up 179, or in the future via the extension of Beaverhead Flat Road, all roads ultimately lead to Sedona and there is no other way to describe that situation other than “traffic nightmare.”

There is still debate today that 179 should have been built as a four-lane road – and that debate existed when the road was being planned 18 years ago – but as Big Park Council President Tom Graham recently expressed in a column in The Villager newspaper, the problem with Sedona traffic is not because of AZ 179, even in its two-lane configuration.

“The root cause of the problem is not being addressed: the bottleneck at the “Y,” exacerbated by the “Yield to Pedestrians” signs at Tlaquepaque and Uptown.” Graham wrote.

“Some officials call 179 a ‘failing road,’ Graham continued. “It is not a ‘failing road’ - it is delivering its traffic to the ‘Y.’ It is the man-made bottlenecks at Tlaquepaque, the ‘Y’ and beyond that are failing the mission to keep traffic flowing. Who is responsible to fix that?”

Building new roads always involves the double-edged sword of solution vs. problem. It’s hard to imagine today how inconvenienced the Cottonwood area was when there was no Mingus Avenue extension.

That was never more pronounced than during the famous flood of 1993 and the Upper Verde’s single bridge crossing at Bridgeport was declared unsafe to cross for more than six months after the flood.

The Mingus Avenue extension solved that problem, but today many contend it has created a traffic logjam on Cornville Road, whose switchbacks have become one of the worst accident areas in the Verde Valley.

No doubt, we’ll be saying the same someday about the extension of Beaverhead Flat Road. It will solve many of the transportation woes that now exist in the Verde Valley. It will also likely make a bad situation for AZ 179 and Upper Town Sedona even worse.

But never fear, there will be politicians who will come to our rescue when that happens.

They’ll build another road.

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