Resident: Non-conforming utility equipment block Scottsdale Troon Village line of sight

A photo provided by Quent Augspurger, submitted to the city of Scottsdale, shows utility equipment blocking the line of sight for vehicles in the Troon Village neighborhood. (Submitted photo)

A year has passed since a petition request was presented to Scottsdale City Council — and a north Scottsdale homeowners association is claiming its issue of non-conforming public utility equipment has fallen on deaf ears.

On June 12, 2018 longtime Scottsdale resident Quent Augspurger P.E., a member of the Parcel D at Troon Village HOA, presented City Council with a petition requesting the elected officials direct the city manager to resolve the issue: Utility boxes in public right-of-way. The equipment in question can be categorized as those mid-sized, desert-colored metal boxes seen along roadways all over.

They typically are from services ranging from electrical utilities to high-speed internet offerings.

City officials, on the other hand, contend they have thoroughly researched the matter and find no issues.

According to Mr. Augspurger, the boxes installed in Troon Village up to 20 years ago are non-conforming with city regulations, and furthermore, pose a safety issue for motorists as they block the line of sight.

There are three intersections Mr. Augspurger identified in his petition:

  • 116th Street and Cottontail Lane;
  • 115th Street and Happy Valley Road; and
  • Pinnacle Peak Parkway and Jomax Road.

The Desert Views/Four Peaks neighborhood within Troon Village lies within the Environmentally Sensitive Land Ordinance. The subdivision was designed and permitted in 1994.

Mr. Augspurger says after moving in, it became apparent that public utility equipment had been installed in locations that reduced visibility when entering and leaving the neighborhood.

“Working with our HOA and studying the recorded plat for Parcel D at Troon Village, we learned that at each of the six entrances to our subdivision, there existed both Sight Distance Easements and Safety Triangle Easements that limited the height of any object placed within those easements,” Mr. Augspurger’s petition to City Council states.

“These requirements come from the (City of Scottsdale) ‘Design Guidelines and Policies Manual’ and were adopted from the AASHTO ‘Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets.’ They are not only a good idea for traffic safety, they are ‘Industry Standard.’”

AASHTO is a common acronym used amongst transportation gurus, it stands for American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

Following a land survey, the neighborhood was able to have one Cox installation relocated underground; however, the rest of the utility installations remain non-conforming as they were installed, Mr. Augspurger states.

(File photo)

The issue from a resident’s point of view

For Mr. Augspurger, the issue lies within improving public safety by clearing the “line of sight” at all intersections so drivers exiting into cross traffic have a clear view of vehicles approaching from both right and left.

“With non-conforming utility equipment located in the sight distance easement or sight triangle, in order for the exiting driver to see approaching cross traffic, a driver has to pull forward from the ‘decision point’ (the driver’s eye) location, which according to AASHTO, should be 14.5 feet to 18 feet back from the edge of the cross traffic roadway,” he explained.

“Having to pull forward closer to the lane of oncoming traffic in order to get a clear view of oncoming traffic results in the exiting driver being closer to that cross-traffic, which creates a potentially dangerous condition.”

Mr. Augspurger cites code ordinances and standards, which includes a 1994 Development Review Board stipulation to the developer requiring:
“Area within the safety triangle is to be clear of landscaping, signs or other visibility obstructions with a height greater than two feet.”

And, a design guidelines and policies for environmentally sensitive land handbook, which was published in April 1992, requiring subsurface utilities are required. “In cases where the Design Guidelines and Policies for Environmentally Sensitive Lands conflict with the city’s Design Standards, the intent of the guidelines shall prevail,” the handbook states.

This was followed by a 2004 update to the manual, requiring “all utility facilities are to be placed underground or screened from view.”

The line-of-sight requirements are defined in both the City of Scottsdale Design Standards and Policies Manual, as well by AASHTO, Mr. Augspurger says, noting that the AASHTO policy is the recognized “national standard.”

“Although never acknowledging that the non-conforming utility equipment is in fact non-conforming, the City of Scottsdale takes the position that by placing warning signs at some of these locations to warn through traffic that an intersection — which they may not be able to see — is ahead, the City of Scottsdale has cured the safety problem of the non-conforming utilities,” he said.

“What the City of Scottsdale wants to do is use ‘Band-Aids.’”

Overall, Mr. Augspurger believes the common sense solution is to require the utility installers — the utility companies — to properly locate the equipment, which he contends should have been done originally.

“The agreements between the City of Scottsdale and the utilities require the utilities to bring all non-conforming utility installations into compliance at no cost to the city,” he said. “The City Charter requires the city manager to enforce all agreements between the City of Scottsdale and all other entities.”

Scottsdale City Hall is in the Old Town area at 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd. (File photo)

Strong evidence

Transportation Director Paul Basha penned an Oct. 31, 2017 letter to Mr. Augspurger addressing his concerns, and stands by his opinion today.

Mr. Basha says the city had requested that Cox, Arizona Public Service and CenturyLink meet with Mr. Augspurger to discuss his concerns.

“Please recognize we cannot require a utility company to meet with you, we can only relay your request; each company can decide whether or not they choose to meet,” Mr. Basha’s letter states.

“We understand that you have met with at least Cox whose representatives indicated they will only relocate their utility boxes if your homeowners association funds this relocation.”

For the boxes that Mr. Augspurger believes to be constructed within public right of way, Mr. Basha says the boxes are in the most appropriate location.

“After careful evaluation and consideration, the City of Scottsdale opinion is that the utility boxes were constructed in the most appropriate location considering natural vegetation, terrain and topography,” his letter states.

“If these utility boxes had been constructed within the adjacent public utility easement, irreparable and irreversible damage would have occurred to the natural environment that is essential to this portion of Scottsdale and your neighborhood. Utility boxes are frequently located within public right-of-way throughout the City of Scottsdale. The utility boxes you have referenced previously appropriately located and should not be relocated.”

Mr. Basha says the utility boxes at the location of issue are both legal and appropriate.

In addition, the city’s Transportation Department examined historic collision data at seven intersections Mr. Augspurger identified as having restricted sight distance. In the most recent 10-year period at that time, there were zero collisions at each of the seven intersections related to intersection sight distance, Mr. Basha said.

More than a year and a half since his letter to Mr. Augspurger, Mr. Basha says he stands by his opinion.

“Yes, our opinion that these utility boxes are in the most appropriate location remains true and valid,” he said in a June 12, 2019 emailed response to questions.

Mr. Basha included in his emailed correspondence to the Independent the October 2017 letter cited above, as well as a July 2017 letter, both written to Mr. Augspurger.

“These letters detail our various analyses of the concerns expressed by Mr. Augspurger,” he said. “We installed several warning signs and pavement markings in accordance with the two letters, and prior to the date of the letters.”

The warning signs inform drivers approaching intersections of the presence of the intersections, as well as the safe operating speeds, Mr. Basha says. Additionally, vegetation in city right-of-way was trimmed to not restrict driver sight distance of approaching vehicles.

“Absolutely, safety concerns expressed by residents are considered very seriously and professionally,” Mr. Basha said of Mr. Augspurger’s desire to improve public safety. “Our very appropriate and comprehensive response is readily apparent with the details provided in the two attached letters. We investigate citizen concerns to ensure that our streets are as safe and efficient as possible.”

Mr. Basha’s response to Mr. Augspurger in July 2017 states the city transportation department carefully measured intersection sight distance at seven locations adjacent to his neighborhood.

Citing the AASHTO publication, “A policy on the Geometric Design of Streets and Highways,” Mr. Basha says the sight distance was measured recognizing the presence of vegetation, rock outcroppings or utility equipment.

The transportation department measured the intersection sight distance from two areas: the stopped approach five feet behind the painted stop bar, and five feet into the approach lane from the street centerline.

Including a handful of aerial photos as well as a table illustrating operating speed based on available intersection sight distance, overall Mr. Basha states “the evidence appears strong there is no safety concern regarding intersection sight distance” at the seven identified intersections.

Northeast Valley News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at mrosequist@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/mrosequist_.

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