Winter recreation traffic congestion has long been a two-pronged issue for residents and visitors alike. Tourism represents a major economic driver in our region and is an important contributor to all of us who live and work in Arizona’s north country.
With increasing tourism comes the equally important second prong of public safety issues that accompany thousands of winter recreation visitors. Stories of emergency vehicles having to travel in wrong lanes; visitors invading local neighborhoods due to lack of snow play areas; and, forest areas littered with pieces of plastic sleds have long been part of our local dialogue.
In March 2017, I hosted the “Grappling with Gridlock” community forum to gather preliminary data on community priorities for addressing these issues. Subsequently, I initiated two Task Forces that focus on creating solutions to mitigate winter recreation traffic congestion issue to safer, more tolerable levels.
The Community Winter Recreation Task Force is comprised of area residents who are true subject matter experts on regional winter recreation issues. The second group is the Agencies Winter Recreation Task Force, representing area jurisdictions. For example, Arizona Department of Transportation has responsibility for roadway construction and maintenance; Arizona Department of Public Safety enforces traffic along the 180 Corridor; and City of Flagstaff, Coconino County and the U.S. Forest Service also have jurisdictional responsibilities, within their respective boundaries.
Solidly engaged task forces members tackled how to find a balance between encouraging tourism and ensuring effective public safety. The question became: How can winter recreation traffic congestion be mitigated to safer, more tolerable levels? Communication, enforcement and evaluation/data-gathering were selected as the three primary priorities. Within these priority areas, the groups established short- and long-term solution goals.
I advocated at the state level for the importance of gathering actual data from which to make more informed, well-considered decisions. The result was initiation of the Arizona Department of Transportation Milton Road and US Highway 180 Master Plan and a $200,000 planning grant awarded to NAIPTA to develop a transportation implementation plan for the 180 Corridor.
Additional action steps include county placement of “Local Traffic Only” barricades at 11 neighborhood entrances that are heavily impacted by winter recreation visitors. Coconino County Board of Supervisors amended the County’s 30-year old winter parking ordinance and ADOT installed “Emergency Parking Only” signage on 180 to prevent motorists from pulling over on the highway.
Crowley Pit has closed, and the brand-new Fort Tuthill Snow Park opened as a more organized recreation venue south of Milton and the 180 Corridor. City of Flagstaff extensively revised their Winter Recreation Map and a multi-jurisdictional public safety Incident Action Plan has been implemented that stages emergency vehicles at Lower Snowbowl Lodge on heavy use days.
Most recently, the Coconino County Board of Supervisors amended the contract for the Flagstaff Snow Park located at Fort Tuthill. The contract modification is intended to provide greater predictability for the Snow Park season. This was a difficult decision that considered a balance between issues of water, public safety, public lands impacts and economic vitality.
Our community response has been awesome! Last year’s light-snow year provided opportunity to put new plans in place and this year the work continues. We are ready to LET IT SNOW! FBN
By Art Babbott
Art Babbott is chairman of the Coconino County Board of Supervisors and supervisor for District 1.