$32 million in federal funds headed to downtown Flagstaff

Major changes are coming to a busy stretch of downtown Flagstaff thanks to $32.4 million in new federal funding for a collection of transportation improvements known as the Downtown Mile project.

The project features numerous safety improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists, including the construction of a pedestrian bridge at Rio de Flag, pedestrian underpasses at Milton Road and connecting South Florence and South Walnut streets, and the installation of gates at the Beaver Street and San Francisco Street railway crossings.

The changes will also include track realignment on a railway that sees between 70 and 100 trains a day and will allow for the future expansion of Milton Road from four to six lanes.

With only one underpass currently located at a high-traffic curve along Route 66, many pedestrians and bicyclists opt to cross the street elsewhere, often in places that could be even more dangerous.

“There is very active trespassing over the rail corridor which is a very unsafe situation,” said Christine Cameron, a senior project manager with the city. “So these new underpasses will remove that conflict, provide encouragement to move people toward multimodal travel, keep people safe and make it much more fun and exciting to get wherever they want to in Flagstaff’s downtown.”

Flagstaff is one of 26 communities nationwide that have so far received funding from the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Flagstaff had to prove these projects met federal guidelines related to safety, multimodal travel and climate action, Cameron said.

The federal funds will be supplemented by $15 million from the city and another $11 million from Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railway, the company that owns the rail infrastructure that runs through Flagstaff. The project is expected to cost nearly $58 million.

“The Downtown Mile is an initiative that will improve public safety and transportation in such a beautiful, rapidly growing city in our district, addressing flood control issues and climate change mitigation in the process,” said Rep. Tom O’Halleran, whose congressional district includes Flagstaff.

This project represents the largest transportation investment in Flagstaff since the construction of Interstate 17 and Interstate 40 decades ago, O’Halleran said in a news release.

The transportation updates at Rio de Flag will coincide with the Rio de Flag Flood Control project, which has been in the works for the past 20 years and has become even more important after a particularly wet monsoon season this year caused significant post-wildfire flooding across town.

In addition to the construction of a pedestrian bridge, the river’s channel will be widened, and new surface and underground floodwater structures will be built to prevent floodwaters from encroaching on the surrounding neighborhoods.

“This project will protect 20% of our community from flooding,” said Flagstaff Mayor Paul Deasy in a social media post after the funding was secured.

The Army Corps of Engineers hopes to get started on the project at the Rio de Flag by the end of next year, Cameron said, while the other projects still need to go through a design process that could take up to two years. The city hopes to start the rest of the projects by late 2024 or early 2025, she said.

“This is just a huge deal for the community,” Cameron said. “This is something that we’ve never seen before for our community in Flagstaff, so it’s really an honor to be chosen and to be able to utilize these funds and bring great things for Flagstaff.”

Contact northern Arizona reporter Lacey Latch at [email protected] or on social media @laceylatch. Coverage of northern Arizona on azcentral.com and in The Arizona Republic is funded by the nonprofit Report for America and a grant from the Vitalyst Health Foundation in association with The Arizona Republic.

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