PHOENIX -- It has been a long road, but a lobbying effort to fund the widening of State Route 260 from Thousand Trails to Camp Verde has finally paid off.
And it was a Verde Valley-wide affair with support from all fronts. During a special meeting of the State Transportation Board in Phoenix Tuesday to finalize the state Five Year Transportation Plan, the board agreed to fund the expansion in a generous way.
Originally, a coalition of county and municipal leaders along with property owners along the corridor had sough $42 million dollars to build a four-lane road from Thousand Trails Road to Interstate 17. But when ADOT staff suggested it was not enough money to complete the project, the board allocated additional cash
Felipe Zubia , a consultant who organized the single-voice message for the state board, said, "Each of the Board Members noted the outpouring of support from the Verde Valley as well as the stakeholders' intimate knowledge and understanding of the project that helped them to make up their mind and support the project."
Zubia instilled a mantra in the campaign of "safety, mobility and economic development" as strengths the board likes to hear.
The approved funding begins with a $4 million-design in fiscal year 2014, which means beginning in July this year, the beginning of the fiscal year. A construction line item has been added that totals $62 million for a total of $66 million. It is quite a step up from the original $7 million included in the draft 5-year plan ... and even from the $35 million that ADOT staff proposed for the widening for Tuesday's meeting.
Zubia, the former State Road Board member and now consultant, says it took two hours and six or seven motions to finalize the details of the allocation.
Steve Ayers, Camp Verde's Economic Development director, reported there was a celebration when Manager Russ Martin and others returned from the Phoenix meeting.
Camp Verde's manager, who brought the Verde Valley together under a single voice, said the joint presentation that began with the ADOT board meeting in Flagstaff that put the project over the top.
Cottonwood Mayor Diane Joens, who also attended part of the meeting, described the outcome as "wonderful. " She admits that she did not feel hopeful going into the meeting.
"Wow! This is such good news," repeated Casey Rooney, Cottonwood's Economic Development director. "Congratulations to one and all. "
Martin said many of the state board members came to the Verde Valley to look at the proposal following that Flagstaff Board meeting where nearly 20 locals voiced support, catching their attention. That provided a "unified voice, such that, even one member who formerly voted against, said 'we need to dust this project off.'
Martin said he thought there was a good understanding of the issue and that the ADOT staff did a great job of analyzing and re-adjusting the proposed allocation.
After the three public hearings held in Phoenix, Tucson and Flagstaff, a final decision was expected at the Pinetop-Lakeside meeting that followed the hearings, but the final allocation was postponed while staff conducted additional analysis for this week's meeting.
Tuesday, a couple of those priority projects fell through, including $40 million for Lion Springs east on SR 260 and a $35 million Maricopa project to separate traffic and rail lines. A little politicking ensued, but ended when a former Maricopa mayor and now ADOT board member, Kelly Anderson, made the motion that included that $66 million for the SR260 Thousand trails widening project.
Martin says the work was scoped in 2001 and plans were 95 percent complete, but a lot of years have passed since then and ADOT staff suggested the project may have to be fully restarted and costs would be affected by inflation.
Martin says they will give the construction value and right of way cost, hoping that that right of way is not as costly as ADOT staff projected.
"I am overjoyed. There was never a guarantee," remarked District 2 County Supervisor Tom Thurman, who joined in the campaign to convince ADOT.
He admits, there are areas of the Verde that do not want growth. But there are also areas that do need it. This is a great opportunity for folks in the Verde that need a job and it is just the start of something bigger, he said. "We will work with all property owners in the area to make sure that all their concerns are met and to keep roundabouts and traffic lights to a minimum.
"The county will be happy to help out," Thurman said.
The new effort to get SR 260 funded began last year when the communities of Camp Verde, Cottonwood, Clarkdale, Jerome, Sedona and the Yavapai-Apache Nation signed an agreement to work cooperatively. Zubia was hired to coordinate the effort and promised a bonus if the effort delivered the project.