Nighttime roadwork set for the next seven to eight months along State Route 89A has some businesses in the canyon worried that they may lose not only patrons but employees.
The Central Federal Lands Highway Division of the Federal Highway Administration, in cooperation with the Arizona Department of Transportation and U.S. Forest Service, is widening and rehabilitating approximately 8.4 miles of State Route 89A. Work begins at the Vista Point Overlook and continues north to the JW Powell Blvd. intersection.
“It’s important to understand this is not an ADOT project,” ADOT spokesman Ryan Harding told the Sedona Red Rock News. “This is a Federal Highway Administration project. The contractor working the project was hired by the FHWA, not ADOT. I understand that this can seem a bit confusing since SR 89A is a state highway, but this is a unique project that FHWA is running and funding.”
Beginning Monday, March 20, this stretch of road was closed nightly from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. However, Kristen Darr, spokeswoman for FNF Construction Inc., said that after receiving numerous calls and emails, all parties involved have agreed to change the hours to 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. beginning Monday, March 27.
“Yes, the change is a direct result of public input,” she said. “But the nighttime closure is needed from a safety standpoint of both the workers and the public. So in order to get it done efficiently, they need to do a full closure.”
Daytime work will continue on weekdays with traffic reduced to one lane in the construction zone from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. There will be no daytime restrictions on weekends or major holidays and there will be no overnight restrictions on major holidays.
Sedona Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jennifer Wesselhoff said she’s received numerous calls from its members who have expressed concern over the closure. She said everyone understands the need to do this work in order to create safer road conditions for residents, commuters and visitors. But it was the duration of the project and the lack of advanced notice that has many upset.
“The proposed closure for the next seven to eight months will have significant impacts on our residents, commuters, visitors and tour operators,” she said. “It seems that the framework for the closure was done in a vacuum without any input from the people who will be most affected. In fact, we were only notified very recently of this project — barely enough time to communicate effectively with those impacted.”
The overall project includes the following improvements:
- Increasing the width of the shoulders so that vehicles can pull over safely.
- Adding passing lanes in select areas to help alleviate traffic queues entering and exiting the canyon and to improve traffic flow, allowing vehicles to pass safely.
- Improving the clear zone, the unobstructed, relatively flat area beyond the edge of the highway that allows a driver to stop safely or regain control of a vehicle that leaves the highway by flattening side slopes.
Junipine Resort restaurant supervisor Courtney Hom has been sending letters to state and local officials expressing her concern about the closure. In the letter she said that approximately 35 percent of their staff commutes from Flagstaff.
“We will likely lose multiple employees due to the road closure, which might lead us to change our hours or possibly close the doors to the restaurant for the time being,” she wrote. “Not only will this impact the residents, businesses and commuters here in the canyon, it will also impact those who work, live and commute farther in Sedona and all the way to Cottonwood.”
Hom also said that some resort guests have expressed concerns about venturing north to Flagstaff and Grand Canyon due to the inability to come down the canyon on their way back at night.
Chris Bosselman, general manager of Orchard Canyon of Oak Creek [formerly Garland’s Oak Creek Lodge], said his first thought when he heard about the closure was his staff, many of whom live in Flagstaff.
“Their income depends on access to Oak Creek Canyon, and because many of them work into the evening hours, they are directly impacted by the 8 p.m. road closure,” he said earlier this week, prior to the operational hours announcement. “My second thought focused on the loss of dinner revenue for our business, followed closely by wondering how this decision was made without any public input. None of us at Orchard Canyon understand why the hours have to be 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. when 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. would be, in my opinion, a much more reasonable time frame if the construction crew needs a full eight hours per shift.”
Bosselman said the closure could impact as many as 26 employees from the resort. Since the closure is seven days a week for upward of nine months, he said they are still hoping for continued pressure from local residents, business owners and state officials in regard to changing the hours.
“We’re not going to stop gathering support until this plan is revisited,” he said. “Until then, our staff is still considering their options and how it impacts them personally.”
And it’s not just the inconvenience to his staff that concerns Bosselman.
“We will have to find a way to create new revenue streams and/or reduce expenses to offset the expected losses,” he said. “This project has managed to stay completely under the radar, so I don’t think a lot of business owners are aware that their operations will be impacted.”
Wesselhoff echoed Bosselman’s comments and added, “In today’s business climate where labor is in short supply, any further obstacles for employees to work in Sedona would be detrimental to our service levels, economy and overall destination brand. We’ve heard concern from many businesses that they will certainly lose employees because of it.”