It’s been a long haul. For three years those who do not want a string of lights along 89A in West Sedona have waged a hard and bitter war of attrition against the Arizona Department of Transportation.
It’s been a see-saw battle, with the community seemingly victorious at times and then ADOT quickly gaining back the upper hand.
Many believe this is the main reason the old city council in support of the 89A lights was voted out of office and replaced by four councilors who have steadfastly proclaimed and maintained their opposition to the lights.
Unofficial polls have shown the majority of Sedona citizens and voters are in line with the new council members.
Opponents believe the lights will ruin Sedona’s acclaimed night skies. They believe there are other alternatives that would better improve pedestrian and vehicular safety on 89A.
Yet, ADOT remains entrenched and will not budge on the lights, claiming liability issues as the main factor.
They say they will go ahead and put the lights construction out to bid if the city does not take control of 89A through a turnback.
They are willing to pay improvement costs for 89A but in a long-term scenario the City will have to dig deep into its pocket to maintain and improve the highway running through its heart.
The question now is whether the City will raise its hands and let ADOT go ahead with the lights construction or bite the bullet and take control of 89A.
In a May 27 letter to ADOT Director John Halikowski, Sedona Mayor Rob Adams said ADOT’s refusal to consider alternatives to the lighting and ADOT’s short time frame on forcing the city to make a decision on the turnback or not was “unacceptable.”
“You have established an unrealistic time frame to work out the details of a major route transfer that will have far reaching impacts on the community,” the mayor wrote. “The city must have sufficient time to perform its due diligence before it can consider such a monumental decision.”
The mayor also reminded ADT that the city will pursue “legal, financial and political means necessary” to prevent the installation of the lights.
According to the mayor, Halikowski did not respond to his letter.
City Manager Tim Ernster said City staff is working hard to crunch the numbers on what a turnback would cost the City and how other communities that made a turnback agreement with ADOT fared.
“We are trying to get a feel on what it would cost,” Ernster said. “We are contacting other communities. We are checking for unintended consequences. We are in an information gathering mode.”
Sedona Vice Mayor Cliff Hamilton said the council was not giving up.
“Our resolve remains strong,” he said. “Last Friday a number of council members went to the State Transportation Board meeting in Flagstaff to bring their concerns. There is no wavering.”
Councilors Dennis Rayner and Dan McIlroy remain as committed to an alternative safety measure for 89A as they were since they ran for council.
“Anything we can do to avoid 96 streetlights is my goal,” Councilor McIlroy said.
“There is no question about it,” Councilor Rayner said. “The lights were the number one issue during the election. We can’t get around it. We have to find another alternative.”
But can they? It seems ADOT is as adamant as ever to put them in.
Perhaps it did not like losing to the community’s will during the SR 179 construction planning where they had to scale down from their original plan to create four-lanes, and are now getting their revenge.
Maybe they are upset those in the council who were with them were voted out of office.
Or could it be they simply have had it with Sedona and want to wash their hands of us, walk away and not bother to turn around?
And why the short deadline on the City coming terms with them? Could it be there is a time limit on the federal money and ADOT and the winning contractor will lose the $2 million-plus dollars if the controversy stretches past August?
The mayor said in making a decision the City’s budget needs to be considered as well as the liability factor.
Should another pedestrian accident occur at night would the courts award a victim damages if the victim was jay-walking, inebriated or high on drugs?
Or should the driver be compensated for having to repair a bent fender because he could not see the victim?
The liability argument is nebulous and competent city attorneys would easily defeat such claims in court.
It’s not about liability. It’s about the federal money and who gets it.
It will come to a showdown. What will be interesting is what contractor will get the job and to whom in the city the contractor is associated with.
If the city does not accept the turnback, there will be legal repercussions and the project will be tied up in court for years. The Fed money might not be there by then. ADOT will not be able to hold the money while the parties fight it out in court because the way the grant works is ADOT forks out the cash first and then the government reimburses them.
If the city takes 89A then the federal money will be lost. It’s a lose-lose situation for all parties involved no matter what happens.
No doubt, this is going to be a long, hot summer.