Getting around Scottsdale is tough these days and it’s going to get tougher. More people are choosing to make Scottsdale their new home; thousands of new condominiums are becoming available in the downtown area; and more jobs are being created as part of the region’s overall growth.
Of course, more people means more vehicles on the road.
Traffic congestion and the demands bearing down on the city have reached the point where the city has initiated its first comprehensive transportation plan in an effort to find solutions.
“The danger is that people will not be willing to look at the future and seeing things will be different,” said Charles Hales, the transportation consultant hired by the city to shape that plan.
Congestion will worsen and drivers can expect at some point to be paying $4 per gallon for gasoline, Hales said.
For Gilbert resident Dema Cook, making the 54-mile daily round-trip commute to her job in Scottsdale is “expensive, hectic and unpredictable.”
“You don’t know what you are going to find on the highway . . . one accident on Loop 101 and that’s it,” said the 55-year-old, who works at a Scottsdale Fashion Square store.
Cook said she knows traffic troubles will get worse as more people come to live and work in Scottsdale. She and fellow employees have repeatedly tried to organize car pools, but those plans never seem to work out.
“Everyone works different hours and everyone has a different route,” Cook said.
Her experience is indicative of the larger traffic concern.
City traffic planners said traffic volumes along Scottsdale, Miller, Hayden and Pima roads, which dramatically dropped after Loop 101 was built, are inching back up.
Over time, people start driving back on those roads, said transportation planner Teresa Huish.
City transportation engineers consider the Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard intersection at Loop 101 “as the most problematic” due to its proximity to the intersection with Hayden Road. On any given weekday during morning and afternoon rush hour, traffic slows to a crawl there. The two arterial intersections are separated by the Scottsdale Airport and are less than one mile apart.
City leaders hope the transportation master plan will lead to solutions.
Residents over the years have consistently ranked growth and congestion as the area’s top potential “major problems,” well above drugs, taxes, delinquency, noise, blight or crime.
Those solutions, whatever they may be, will come with a hefty price tag. They will shape the city’s future and will ultimately influence the quality of life in Scottsdale when the city reaches its projected buildout in 2015.
THE SEARCH FOR SOLUTIONS
The city currently spends an estimated $60 million annually on transportation, $50 million of which goes for street widening and intersection upgrades. The rest pays for public transit.
How much taxpayers will shell out for transportation demands over the next 20 years is not yet known.
Between 75 and 100 residents who are part of an informal working group are expected to gather at Scottsdale Community College starting Monday for a threeday workshop to begin developing solutions.
It won’t be an easy task because opinions on the subject vary widely.
“I’m not interested in transit — not the buses, not the train,” said stay-at-home mother Lisa Sifert, 38.
Sifert, who has six children, said she has no trouble for now getting around the city even though she is “driving around all the time . . . between sports, school and errands” with her children.
But traffic has increased noticeably in her 12 years as a Scottsdale resident. She said she expects it to get worse as the city’s population grows, but she adamantly opposes light rail coming through Scottsdale.
For north Scottsdale resident and activist Bob Vairo, congestion in the past decade has crossed the line from nuisance to hazard.
“Ten years ago you could hardly see a car on that road (Pima), whereas today we have to wait a good minuteand-a-half to find a break in the traffic. It’s a dangerous maneuver,” he said.
Vairo, a retired executive and president of the Coalition of Pinnacle Peak, a north Scottsdale-based government watchdog organization, is a member of the group involved in the transportation workshop.
Vairo said most of the driving he and his wife, Inge, do is within a 25-mile radius of their north Scottsdale home. Something should be done about traffic now rather than years later, after the city reaches its capacity, he said.
“All of the things that make Scottsdale so attractive and unique should be improved — not in 2016 or 2020. They should be anticipated beforehand,” he said.
He thinks years ago city planners should have made Hayden Road a third arterial road to supplement the city’s main north-south arterials, Scottsdale and Pima roads.
Former longtime city transportation engineer Paul Basha said the perception people have about getting around Scottsdale is relative.
“I often had to remind people that a red light is a green light for someone else,” he said.
Basha is a paid consultant these days for HDR, the Oregon-based firm the city has hired to come up with the master plan.
“There really isn’t a transportation problem in Scottsdale. It’s a matter of immediacy,” Basha said.
EYE OF THE BEHOLDER?
Basha said he thinks a “dramatic expansion” of the public transit system, coupled with a change in thinking when it comes to land use, are the solutions.
The farther one has to drive to get to work, to shop and then get back home, the more vehicles are on the road, he said.
Unless the community is willing to shorten those distances, it can expect congestion, he said.
Anyone used to Los Angeles driving “would think this (driving here) is easy,” said longtime Valley resident and downtown shop owner Marilynn Atkinson.
“It depends on your perception, where you come from, where you’ve lived,” she said.
Although she mostly drives within a 10- to 15-mile radius of her residence near 60th Street and Thomas Road, Atkinson said she’s seen more congestion — “There’s no doubt about that.”
Like other longtime residents, Atkinson said she’s learned to adjust to the increased traffic by anticipating longer travel times.
Atkinson, whose family owns Atkinson Trading Post in Old Town Scottsdale, said she is concerned about the impact traffic could have on her business and others’ businesses in that part of the city.
Atkinson said she joined the transportation workshop group to represent Old Town businesses.
“I’m not 100 percent sure what all the solutions are going to be,” she said.