Wed, Nov. 13

Editorial: Verde Valley needs gatekeeper for regional road projects

The haggling over Verde Connect represents an opportunity for the Verde Valley’s collective leadership to re-examine its process for determining transportation priorities.

The problem with road planning is that it can be a 20-year process when the typical lifespan of an elected official is four to eight years.

With Verde Connect, this Beaverhead Flat Road to State Route 260 connector did not materialize overnight. It was a good 20 years in the making. Further, it was a project that had a collective endorsement from the various communities in the Verde Valley.

At least until Yavapai County secured a $25 million federal grant to finance bridge construction and legitimize the project.

All of a sudden, the Beaverhead Flat to 260 connector wasn’t such a good idea.

The Town of Camp Verde has been the biggest municipal thorn in the side of the Verde Connect project. The Town Council basically told the county Camp Verde is not a partner in this project. The town will not accommodate the county to make it happen

The funny thing is, this is a 180-degree departure from what Camp Verde included in past plans for transportation improvements for the town. In fact, a connector route to close the gap between SR 260 and Middle Verde Road is touted as one of the future roadway alternatives approved by the town council as part of the town’s 2009 Small Area Transportation Study.

Camp Verde Mayor Charles German cited the 2009 council-approved study in an endorsement letter he wrote to help the county secure the grant that gave this project life. “Over the last 25 years,” he wrote, “the need to connect these two corridors have been identified as a priority need for the region in both Camp Verde’s long-range planning documents, but also in the Verde Valley’s regional transportation plans … Creating this connection between SR 260 and Middle Verde Road will provide a critical component for connecting Camp Verde residents to work, school, medical facilities, and to shopping centers located in the Verde Valley region.”

For former Yavapai County Supervisor Chip Davis, the current obstacles in the path of Verde Connect are strikingly similar to those confronted when expanding SR 260 from two to four lanes between Cottonwood and Camp Verde.

When Davis first announced a county financial partnership with the Arizona Department of Transportation in the early 2000s to expand State Route 260 between Cottonwood and Camp Verde, he firmly believed he was addressing a transportation need agreed upon by everyone in the Verde Valley.

“I absolutely felt like I had the support of Camp Verde, Cottonwood and all the communities in the Verde Valley,” Davis said. “We ran it through (the Verde Valley Transportation Planning Organization) and everyone was in agreement. Then some people started thinking 260 was going to become their new cash cow and everything fell apart.”

The challenge going forward for Verde Valley leaders is finding a way to erase this memory gap between what originally was viewed as a future transportation priority vs. its importance when money becomes available to make it happen.

This might best be a role for the Verde Valley Transportation Planning Organization. It can become the repository for what exactly are the agreed-upon future regional corridors in the Verde Valley. Then make it an annual or twice-annual exercise in meeting with each municipality and county government in the Verde Valley for a meeting of the minds on what we collectively have agreed to.

In other words, to keep our plans on course.

If Verde Connect is a lousy choice for a new transportation corridor in the Verde Valley, that should have been decided years ago.

To put the project in jeopardy now because at least one community has changed its mind is souring the chances of our region being successful is securing grant applicants for future transportation projects.

As summarized earlier this week by Copper Canyon Fire Chief Terry Keller, “Like it or not, the Verde Valley will grow. I still see pressure to build better interconnectivity. But no build, the flip side to me, if you turn the grant down, you put Arizona in a bad light. You put yourself in a spot if you look for other money. Do you jeopardize your options of getting other grants?”

That’s the real danger we’re faced with if Verde Connect is jeopardized.

All the more reason for someone to step up and be the gatekeeper for our regional transportation priorities.

And keep everyone on course until the rubber meets the road.

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