Commentary: Verde Connect: transportation priority or dead-end street?
One of the biggest problems that comes with planning for a community’s future transportation needs is that plans typically outlive planners.
The Verde Connect project is a good case in point.
Verde Connect has gotten a lot of attention in the past year. Some would have you believe it was quickly concocted. Some would have you believe Yavapai County Supervisors Thomas Thurman and Randy Garrison have attempted to shove this road down our collective throats.
But Verde Connect has been on the books for at least 20 years now. According to former longtime Yavapai Supervisor Chip Davis, the seed for Verde Connect was first planted in about 2000 when the county finished paving Beaverhead Flat Road.
Back then, Davis explained, it was referred to as the Beaverhead Flat Extension. It ultimately would connect with State Route 260 via Middle Verde Road.
“We are always looking for traffic solutions with an eye to the future before development occurs. We try to create a lot of small fixes along the way,” said Davis, who is now the Northern District director for Arizona Congressman Tom O’Halleran. “We talked with the locals and envisioned this as a road that would be used 99% by residents. It would improve emergency access. It would lower the traffic numbers on Cornville Road. It would make the commute to Sedona easier.”
And so the Beaverhead Flat Extension soon found its place in the various long-range transportation planning documents in the Verde Valley.
In Camp Verde’s case, it was included as one of the future roadway alternatives approved by the town council as part of the town’s 2009 Small Area Transportation Study.
In fact, that very study was used, with an endorsement by Camp Verde Mayor Charles German, to help Yavapai County win the $25 million federal transportation grant to build a new bridge over the Verde River.
In his June 2018 letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Mayor German wrote the federal grant was needed “to help fund a critical gap closure from SR 260 and Middle Verde Road. Over the last 25 years, 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.”
Mayor German continued, “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.”
Last week, Mayor German was among those on the town council to unanimously agree that Camp Verde now wants nothing to do with Verde Connect. What was once considered a transportation priority has now become a dead-end street.
For Davis, this new roadblock to Verde Connect from Camp Verde created a sense of déjà vu.
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 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. It was frustrating.”
As was the case with State Route 260, Davis said Verde Connect is suffering from a disconnect between the vision and commitment of past elected leaders and those who now occupy those positions of leadership.
“It’s one of the hazards of elected bodies,” Davis said. “I know Verde Connect had buy-in when we first started planning it, but there’s been a lot of folks change in the past 20 years. We elect new people.”
The greatest irony, said Davis, is that the original vision for the Beaverhead Flat Extension is that Camp Verde was viewed as the community that would most benefit from the project.
“Our work back then,” said Davis, “when we first began talking about this road, there was no greater benefactor than Camp Verde. We discussed it with the town, and they were on board with it.
“I’m surprised it went south so fast.”