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Is History Repeating Itself?

By Ernie Strauch “One of the biggest flaws in the common conception of the future is that the future is something that happens to us, not something we create.” — Michael Anissimov

Once upon a time, (in the year 2000) there was a Sedona City Council that believed that SR 179, as a state highway was ADOT’s road and ADOT “could do what they wanted with it.”

After all, ADOT had done all the studies and concluded that SR 179 was “too congested and too unsafe.”

The answer thus provided to fix the presumed problem was the design of a wider, straighter, flatter (and faster) 4-lane super-highway, from the current Forest Service Visitor Center to the “Y.”

This superhighway had no sidewalks. ADOT said they did not provide sidewalks on state highways (never had and never would). This superhighway had no striped bike lanes.

ADOT said that it was against state policy regulations to stripe bike lanes on state highways for liability reasons (potential cyclists suing the state over being hit in a “presumably safe” lane).

ADOT’s Environmental Assessment said not one word about the effect of dumping a 4-lane highway into a 2-lane highway through uptown, on to Slide Rock State Park, Oak Creek Canyon and beyond (after arriving on a holiday week-end at a traffic signal at the “Y”).

There was further no real discussion of the effect of adding approximately 3-6 additional traffic signals (where roundabouts are today) on the theoretical travel time benefit of this 4-lane approach.

Fast forward 10 years. Within 4-6 months, a 2-lane, continuously flowing highway with roundabouts, sidewalks and bike lanes will blend in a context-sensitive way with Sedona’s majestic Red Rock Grandeur.

What happened? An entire book has been written about the process, (“Can’t We DO Something?” by Janet Sabina), so I’ll only touch a few highlights which relate to today’s political climate.

This article and history reminder has been made necessary by frequent statements of currently sitting members of Sedona City Council, that 89A is ADOT’s road, they can do what they want, and we residents are mere peons and pawns.

We must accept the wishes of a massive state bureaucracy. That is NOT what citizens of Sedona accepted 10 years ago!

A small group of democracy-loving local residents who believed the people deserved a voice and a choice about something that might severely degrade their environment, formed Voice of Choice for 179.

They collected petitions until they were certain that a vast majority of Sedonan’s preferred a 2-lane to 4-lane solution – then they presented their petitions to city council. City Council said, “we can’t do anything, it’s ADOT’s road.”

Then Voice of Choice challenged ADOT’s safety and traffic count data upon which their 4-lane decision was based. They found the data in both cases, specious, incapable of comparison, and in violation of ADOT’s own stated policies for traffic counting.

Presented to city council, the answer was “We don’t know anything about that. It’s ADOT’s road and they did an Environmental Assessment. They’re the experts. They know what they’re doing.”

Continuous research by Voice of Choice uncovered a brand new Federal Highways Department initiative called “Context-Sensitive Solutions.”

The premise was that highways should fit and conform to the environment in which they exist. Holy Cow!   That’s just what we had been saying all along. (See: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/context/index.cfm).

Armed with this information, Voice of Choice found the highway design engineer having the most experience with applying Context Sensitive Solutions in the entire U.S., raised money locally, and brought this engineer to Sedona from Florida to study our situation and make recommendations.

Those recommendations were presented to city council at a public meeting by the engineer himself. The Sedona City Council of 2001, still chose (by a 5-2 majority) to prefer the 4-lane solution proposed by ADOT, ignoring all other options and possibilities.

Is this starting to sound familiar?

There was only one final approach to take.

If  the city council was determined to ignore the will of the people, city council should be changed.

The President and Vice-president of Voice of Choice ran for Sedona City Council with a sympathetic 3rd candidate in early 2002.

Opposing them were 2 incumbents, a 3rd supporter of theirs and a 4th somewhat undeclared candidate.

In the primary election of March, 2002, the three Voice of Choice supporting candidates were elected outright, receiving a combined total of 6,388 votes, versus 3944 for the other four candidates combined.

The people had clearly spoken, and today, as the Context Sensitive highway nears completion, we know that it is the residents and the voters to whom SR 179 and SR 89A belong, not ADOT.

Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.  Perhaps history bears repeating?

Postscript: On the same evening they were sworn in, the three new council members joined with the several other supportive members remaining on council to pass the following Resolution:

“The City of Sedona, through its Mayor and City Council, does hereby formally convey to the Arizona Department of Transportation, a restatement of its position expressed in Resolution #99-12 of March 9, 1999 that the currently proposed four and five lane roadway improvements to state Route 179 are inconsistent with the goals of the Sedona Community Plan.   Such improvements will result in a radical change to the character of the Sedona area and therefore represent an unacceptable solution.   It is therefore absolutely critical that the Arizona Department of Transportation implement an alternative, encompassing creative solutions to resolve transportation issues within the Sedona City Limits and beyond, in order to maintain the beauty and character of the area.”

And the moral of the story…”They did!”

Ernie Strauch is a former Sedona Councilman, (2002-2006) and Vice-president of Voice of Choice for S.R. 179.

1 Comment

  1. Steve DeVol says:

    Thanks for your article. History has shown us two things: history repeats itself and we never seem to learn from history. That goes for individuals and government agencies equally.

    Ernie, you speak the truth.

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