A year-and-a-half down the road, commuters along State Route 260 will enjoy nine new miles of divided highway and run less risk of a disastrous wreck, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.
Construction has begun on the project, with the bulk of activity happening overnight within a mile west of Interstate 17. The project will occur in two westward-progressing phases: Phase one will extend from I-17 to Cherry Road. Phase two will extend from Cherry Road to Thousand Trails Road.
The project upgrades State Route 260 to a four-lane divided highway from Thousand Trails Road — the point at which the two-mile length of divided highway that extends from the edge of Cottonwood ends — to the roundabout construction on State Route 260 east of I-17 at Industrial Drive in Camp Verde.
A divided highway will reduce the number of injury and fatality crashes, according to Cottonwood Mayor Timothy Elinski — an assertion supported by Alvin Stump, district engineer for ADOT’s Northwest District, who cited the growing population of the Verde Valley as a strain on the existing infrastructure.
The project also creates seven roundabout intersections at Thousand Trails Road, Coury Drive, Cherry Creek Road, Horseshoe Bend Drive, Wilshire Road and two locations that ADOT expects will accommodate future development.
Since their introduction in the Verde Valley, roundabouts have been a contentious issue, with many residents lamenting the construction delays, the cost, the alleged slowing of traffic and drivers’ lack of knowledge about navigating roundabouts.
The last issue is of particular concern, according to ADOT Senior Community Relations Officer Coralie Cole, who identified increasing driver awareness as a top priority for the department as it moved forward with roundabout construction throughout the state.
To that end, ADOT has developed a campaign to alert drivers that they must never merge with right-of-way travelers within the roundabout and remember the acronym SLOW: Slow down to 15 to 25 mph when entering a roundabout; let vehicles already circulating go ahead; obey all one-way signs; and watch for pedestrians, bicyclists, emergency vehicles and large vehicles.
Citing the increase of roundabouts in the Phoenix metropolitan area, where the demands placed upon the system are more variable, including many different types of commuter, Cole called the results a “big success” and “remarkably efficient.”
In addition to being a more energy-efficient system than traffic lights — by operating without signaling equipment and reducing long periods of stoppage, roundabouts demand less energy for counties and municipalities to maintain and for commuters to use — roundabouts are safer for automotive travelers and pedestrians.
According to studies conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Highway Loss Data Institute, conversion to roundabouts from traffic signals and stop signs reduces injury crashes by upward of 80 percent and all crashes by between 30 and 40 percent.
In addition, based on results of an 2004 IIHS study, “it is estimated that the conversion of 10 percent of the signalized intersections in the U.S. to roundabouts would have prevented approximately 49,000 crashes in 2014, including 189 fatal crashes and 31,000 crashes involving injuries.”
According to ADOT, roundabouts also produce a 30 to 40 percent reduction in pedestrian crashes and a 10 percent reduction in bicycle crashes.
Since November, Cole and other ADOT Public information officers have assured the public that one-lane traffic in each direction will be maintained throughout the project. Regardless, Cole said that delays would be inevitable and cautioned safety.
“I know a lot of people didn’t think it was going to happen,” Camp Verde Economic Development Director Steve Ayers said, citing a two-decade-long push to get the project up and running.
“Everything I’ve heard has been positive so far …. but then again I haven’t seen any major traffic jams yet.”