About three weeks ago, ADOT announced it would close the switchbacks during stormy weather this winter because there were not enough funds to plow the route.
After the city of Sedona and the Sedona Chamber of Commerce expressed concerns with the closures, ADOT started looking at other cost-saving alternatives.
ADOT Spokesman Rod Wigman said the department decided to sell surplus vehicles rather than close state highways when it snows. He anticipates the state will generate about $2 million by selling them.
He said the funds will be earmarked for Northern Arizona cities and towns needing snowplows and other snow removal equipment to keep roads open.
ADOT’s budget deficit, created by $500 million in diverted transportation funds and declining revenue, was hit hard, and a variety of services like highway maintenance — including snowplowing — were on the chopping block.
Sedona Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jennifer Wesselhoff was thrilled to hear ADOT decided to not close State Route 89A when it snows.
“We’re very pleased with the outcome and know that many local, regional and state leaders were instrumental in accomplishing this victory,” she said. “SR 89A is an integral lifeline to Sedona and we are very pleased that ADOT has found the resources to accommodate the snow plan efforts at the same level as last year.
“This victory illustrates the power of a unified voice in the business community. We’ve won the battle this year, however, we will need to begin working now in order to ensure that funding to ADOT is maintained at a level where accessibility and safety are maintained over the next several years.”
The state’s hiring freeze left ADOT with too few qualified snowplow drivers, and a depleted budget left no money to replace snowplows, costing $250,000 each, and there
were fewer dollars to buy materials.
According to a press release, ADOT is making further operational cuts and plans a one-time sale of several hundred fleet vehicles to support snowplowing and keep routes open. Snow removal requires money for materials, equipment and people — all of which were impacted by the shortfall.
“This is a one-time strategy. Plowing snow is critical for public safety and keeping the economy moving. We found a solution for this year, but the long-term should be a concern for every driver in Arizona,” ADOT Director John Halikowski said.
“How will we fund snow plowing next year? There are no concrete answers for that challenge, which may only increase if transportation revenues continue to decline or if additional transportation dollars are diverted to the
Sedona City Manager Tim Ernster said the importance of ADOT’s decision not to close the route cannot be overstated.
“This was kind of a late hit. This was not something we were expecting,” he said of the anticipated closures.
He said the city must monitor the situation for next year so there are no surprises and mentioned meeting with other entities to determine how to prepare.
“The key is we need to stay on this for next year,” he said.
He mentioned if the route had closed when it snowed, visitors who normally would have stopped in Sedona on the way to Flagstaff and Grand Canyon would have bypassed the city. He added he was unsure what the financial impact in sales tax to the city would be if ADOT officials had not changed their minds.
Responsiveness to individual storm events will vary based on the severity of the storm and availability of people and equipment.
Wigman said spending additional dollars on snow removal means ADOT has fewer resources for other highway maintenance activities, such as removal of weeds, litter and debris.