FLORENCE — Town Council members expressed frustration Monday with a traffic snafu on Hunt Highway and demanded accountability from the contractor and town staff.
Councilman John Anderson called it “a major problem for our citizens” and added, “we need to get it fixed tonight. We don’t want to hear excuses, the contractor needs to figure out a way.”
The town awarded a $1.2 million contract in April to Cactus Asphalt to rebuild almost a mile of Hunt Highway north of Anthem. The contract included a temporary bypass road to keep traffic flowing, but that path buckled and crumbled Friday, making it impassable.
Pinal County’s emergency notification system relayed a message Tuesday afternoon that southbound Hunt Highway will be closed south of Oasis Lane throughout the project. Southbound drivers will be detoured to Arizona Farms Road and Felix Road.
For a map of the detour, visit tinyurl.com/HuntHwyDetour. Northbound travel will remain open throughout the project, according to Pinal County’s message.
Vice Mayor Michelle Cordes called the situation “quite an embarrassment” and “very frustrating, more than inconvenient for those of us that live in that area.
“I realize it doesn’t impact you, because you don’t live here,” Cordes told Public Works Director/Town Engineer Chris Salas, “but for those of us who do, it was unexpected and pretty much not what council asked to happen. We were very clear in how we wanted this project to go.
“The signage is lacking in explanation of where the closure is,” and detours are inconvenient, she continued. “Supposedly there is some dirt road that you can drive, but I’m not going to take my vehicle on an unknown dirt road. Most of our residents would not.”
She continued, saying there’s no pilot car to move traffic. People couldn’t get home or get to work, and “it’s just a complete mess.”
Unprepared drivers responded with unsafe behavior, she added. “I witnessed some of the most unsafe driving I have seen in Arizona.
“There was lack of police presence, lack of organization. It was just a failure all around,” Cordes said.
She said the same contractor also inconvenienced motorists on its recently completed project on Arizona Farms Road. “People waited more than 30 minutes to turn onto Arizona Farms, same company.” She said other people complained about recent chip seal work on downtown streets.
Councilwoman Judy Hughes said when a contractor fails, the town should stop using them.
Councilwoman Kristen Rodriguez asked the contractor to “please don’t take shortcuts” in response to Friday’s setback. “I want you guys to do a quality job.”
Jeff Smith with Cactus Asphalt assured her, “We aren’t going to bend on quality.”
Cordes asked Salas the route he takes to work, and asked him to use Hunt Highway Tuesday “and see the frustration.”
She also scolded Town Manager Brent Billingsley for not responding to the scene. “That is unacceptable. You should have been there Friday next to Chris. You are supposed to be in the thick of it before Chris Salas gets there.”
Billingsley replied, “The town manager does care” and there was a team of people there Friday.
Smith told the council his company built the bypass correctly by industry stands, but “for whatever reason, we had a failure.” Because it failed when it did, work had already begun on one lane of the highway and it wasn’t usable. “So now our only option is to have one lane of traffic on the lane that we have.”
A milling machine went down and the company was only able to work a half day on Saturday, but Cactus Asphalt is trying to expedite construction as best it can, Smith said. “Our plan is to have the overlay completed in that southbound lane by Friday.”
Smith agreed the signs could be more helpful, and “it has to be better.” He said he’s been in contact with a company that has portable computerized traffic control devices.