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The Highway 179 Controversy

"ADOT Plans Superhighway through Red Rock Country"
Keep Sedona Beautiful takes a stand

by Coleman M. Greenberg

The Board of Directors of the venerable and influential Keep Sedona Beautiful recently passed a resolution calling upon ADOT to be responsive to the realistic needs of the community, to maintain the scenic beauty of the existing two-lane Highway 179 by adding appropriate turnouts and left turn lanes and to use the precepts of the Federal Highway Administration Flexibility in Highway Design manual for the design of the road.

Directed by the Board, KSB's president Bill Kusner wrote a letter to Governor Jane Dee Hull. The following is an excerpt from that letter:

"For whom does ADOT work? Democracy is normally defined as government by the people exercised either directly or through elected representatives. However, after hearing remarkably similar comments from the community -- business owners and artists, longtime residents and schoolteachers--and despite a Sedona Red Rock News poll that favored modest improvements appropriate to this unique national treasure, ADOT's only response was to reluctantly reduce the width of the road by a few feet and lower the design speed for the road within the City of Sedona. Furthermore, the agency continues to insist in media appearances that its superhighway design is the only course of action, that no other alternatives exist. Many Sedonans do not think this project is a "done deal." And, an article in the Arizona Republic on March 26, 2000, says ADOT's plan to straighten and widen this scenic highway to five lanes will change all that, and that it's also presented as a "done deal."

  • A "done deal," despite petitions to that agency signed by hundreds of citizens asserting that ADOT's expressway would shatter Sedona's special character for all time and underscoring the economic and environmental impact of the project?
  • A "done deal" despite the finding in ADOT's own environmental assessment of the project (project No. STP-238 January 1999, Page 77) that construction of the project would mean a "general degradation of the inherent scenic quality of the area?"
  • A "done deal" despite another finding in the same document that "Much of SR 179 within the project limits is designated the Red Rock Scenic Road," where, most notably from Bell Rock to Back O' Beyond Road, there would be the loss of the unique experience northbound along a narrow winding roadway through a pinon-juniper Forest?"

Forum XI of The Sedona Academy of Public Affairs said in 1995:
The final report from Sedona Forum XI "Congestion or Conservation" Do we have choices? (March 5, 1995) on page 17 clearly states: "Our vision of transportation for Sedona is a system that complements and supports our quality of life, small-town character, and harmonizes with the natural beauty and supports the integrity of our environment. There is a clear consensus that in the future there should be a decreased reliance on the use of personal automobiles . . ." With specific regard to SR 179, the report calls for: "An upgraded State Route 179 that includes scenic pull outs, shoulders and safe ingress and egress."

The Sedona Community Plan, 1992
Quoting the Sedona Community Plan, 1992, the Report from Forum XI of the Sedona Academy of Public Affairs says: "The vision that the citizens have for the future of their city is . . . To be a city that is constantly vigilant over the preservation of its natural beauty, scenic vistas, pristine environment and cultural heritage" and goes on to quote: To be a city that retains its small-town character and creates its man-made improvements in strict harmony with nature." and finally, "To be a city that lives up to the challenge of proper stewardship of one of earth's great treasures."
Education and experience should teach us

US Transportation Department studies conclude that in 60 metro areas where the amount of highway per resident grew by 10 percent over the past 16 years, delays experienced by drivers grew by 235 percent. Obviously, adding more lanes to highways is not a panacea for all traffic problems. Why, then does ADOT's answer invariably involve construction of more traffic lanes?
Wisconsin, Utah, California, England, New York and others have refuted the theory that adding lanes helps with traffic congestion. They are all looking for other solutions, even removing extra lanes already built in the hope of restoring some semblance of a natural environment. More traffic (more vehicles on more lanes) = more air-, water- and noise-pollution. Are we in the market for more pollution any more than we are in the market for an arterial highway?

Sedona is unarguably a scenic area (millions of visitors come just to look at it every year). Common sense will tell you that the roadways through this kind of scenery should be scenic, too (rolling, winding, slow and steady).

ADOT's context for roads is traffic movement buffered only by safety. Scenery is not a consideration, regardless of their claims to the contrary (just look at their sound walls). Recent safety studies about people doing other things (cell phones, maps, child care, even audio books) while driving show that more people get hurt more often and more seriously when a driver is not paying attention to driving. Accident records on the new five-lane portion of SR 89A through West Sedona compared to the statistics for SR 179 confirm that gentle roads through our scenery are more appropriate than "arterial roads" with our visitors making U-turns, reading maps, stopping to take pictures, etc. and our locals creeping along at snail speed waiting for their synapses to snap.

Main roadways that encourage slow, but steady traffic movement and allow for drivers' attentions to occasionally be diverted without major mishap by the majestic grandeur through-which the roads are built are obviously needed here. What is unwelcome and not needed is any encouragement of the hurry-up lifestyle many of us left in the major cities from which we emigrated to our "park without a portfolio."

A Sedona Red-Rock Scenic Parkway

A new roadway upon the rights of way of existing roads, our "Sedona-Red Rock Scenic Parkway," would include the entirety of the already-designated Red Rock Scenic Road and the Dry Creek Scenic Road (SR179 MP 302.5 to SR89A MP 363), and all of the roadway between them.

Our Parkway would retain the character of the existing road where it still exists (i.e., the "roller coaster") and restore the original character (as much as possible) where it is destroyed (i.e., the SR89A, Si Birch Highway) and would pre-empt and replace construction of Phase III of SR89 from Cottonwood, as designed by ADOT (from the first views of our Red Rocks just west of the Sedona Wastewater Plant).
As it becomes a widely-divided bifurcated roadway through the Coconino National Forest, the new (southbound) section of the road would mirror the character of the existing northbound ("roller coaster") lane as much as possible.

Our "Sedona-Red Rock Scenic Parkway" would have one generous traffic lane in each direction, appropriate right and left-turn lanes, wide stable shoulders and plenty of scenic pullouts. As necessary and appropriate, traffic lanes would be separated by a raised, landscaped divider. Design speed would be 35 miles per hour and the posted speed limit would be thirty, except within the City of Sedona, where the posted limit would be 25 miles per hour.

Goals of the overall design and particularly the design speed would be to eliminate any need for "sound walls" and also eliminate the need to remove all vegetation of four inch diameter, or more from along the roadway.

Can it be done? Of course! Will it be done? Not unless our community somehow either forces ADOT to build it, or unites in a new coalition to build it.

The Purpose of the article

To have readers discover individually, within themselves, a need to "step forward" and resist ADOT's plan to build a superhighway through the Sedona area. To personally realize that we can and will individually and as a motivated and united community find another way to do what is necessary to make SR 179 the safe, gentle scenic road that it should be, with or without ADOT.

ADOT exercises almost total control over what will be paved, when and where in this state. Until now, that is. Now, our citizenry is roused to action.

A very large group of concerned local citizens is forming to meet ADOT's challenge to the basic character of our community. Members of the group are from every segment of the community. Merchants and tree-huggers, students and retirees, singles and couples, kids and seniors. We have in common that we will do whatever is necessary to take back control of what happens to our little corner of paradise.

A few years ago, the people behind the effort to incorporate Sedona said that the citizens of this area wanted to "control our own destiny." What happened? Incorporation of the City of Sedona, but no local control! Our group is committed to making good on that failed promise for every citizen of the Sedona area.

If you have had enough of ADOT and their terrorist tactics and are willing to "join the fray," join us. Call 204-1608, Fax 204-1597, or Email and let us know who you are. If you want to personally let someone in "power" know how strongly you feel about the ADOT Sedona Superhighway, write to the Governor at: The Honorable Jane Hull - Governor of Arizona - 1700 West Washington - Phoenix, Arizona 85007- Telephone her at 602-542-4331, or Fax 602-542-1381. Tell Mary Peters, Director of the Arizona Department of Transportation - 206 South 17th Avenue - Phoenix AZ 85007, or call her at 602-712-7227.

You can make a difference, but only if you take part!

Editor's Note: Cole Greenberg is immediate past-president of Keep Sedona Beautiful and a member of the Board of the Sedona Academy for Public Affairs. He served on Yavapai County's Alternate Route Task Force and the City of Sedona's SR 179 Design Subcommittee. He has lived in Sedona full-time since early 1992 and is a practicing professional home inspector, construction consultant and environmental consultant.

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