NewsOperation Safe Roads


High country community feels trapped in their own neighborhood with truckers blocking access

Posted at 5:00 PM, Jan 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-15 13:47:58-05

About 10 miles northwest of Flagstaff off I-40 there is a roundabout, a residential community, and a really popular gas station. The three don't seem to be getting along.

Those who live in Bellemont say, especially as snow falls and truckers pull in, they become trapped.

"It's a big serious concern to go to work, get your kids from school, go to the doctor," resident Celeste Batchelor said.

A roundabout was built to ease congestion coming off I-40. But for the fast-growing community nearby, the roundabout is driving them crazy and often keeping them cooped up in their own homes.

"In America, you kind of expect to be able to leave our home when we want to and come home when we want to. That's not always the case here because of that roundabout," Batchelor said.

She spoke with ABC15 from her Bellemont home. Batchelor had reached out to us through the Operation Safe Roads hotline and emailed with pictures and videos of what is happening outside her front door.


"I've been stranded with jack-knifed trucks blocking the road for a long period of time," Batchelor explained. 

Truckers who are making their way to and from the nearby Pilot Gas Station are obviously turned around. 

"If I didn't know the traffic flow… it would be hard to know where to go," Batchelor said. "I see their confusion." 

ABC15 watched for more than an hour and saw drivers struggling to figure out the area and navigate the tight turns. Megan did see signs were attempted to be added to this area to help direct traffic. However, at least four were knocked over and laying on the ground. 

Anytime a trucker will get stuck or go the wrong way, Celeste has no idea when she will be able to get in or out. 

"We understand those frustrations and those safety issues," said Christopher Tressler, an engineer with the Coconino County Public Works Department. He told ABC15 the roundabout is relatively new. It has only been operating for about six months. 


The county did send a letter to residents with all the ways they are working to try and help the area, including adding chemical de-icers to the area during inclement weather. 

Tressler thinks their efforts have helped and the roundabout has eased congestion. But he is hoping for more permanent improvements.

"Early on, it was identified that it would be good if we could have a second interchange or a second access to I-40," Tressler said. "It's right on the threshold - the size of the community and the population. The average daily traffic doesn't seem to quite justify the expenditure for ADOT to build a new interchange, but we're hoping with potential infrastructure dollars that are being released from the federal government that that might create some opportunities for the county to partner with ADOT and the community... to revisit that."

In the meantime, he said the community does have an emergency plan with first responders on access to the community via forest roads if necessary.

To Batchelor, that is not even an option. 

"We need another safe entrance and exit to our neighborhood that does not involve a roundabout," Celeste said. 

ABC15 did reach out to ask if they were looking at that as a solution. They declined our interview request and said there are no plans or funding on this. 

ADOT sent the following statement about the plans to ABC15:

We’re going to politely decline an interview on this topic as the most recent transportation-related project completed in this area in 2021 is under the supervision of Coconino County. The most recent project overseen by ADOT in this vicinity was completed in 2020. 

While we are aware Bellemont-area residents have expressed the desire for more transportation options in a growing community, it is important to note that local jurisdictions like cities and counties, not ADOT, are responsible for land use planning and local zoning decisions that may lead to cumulative impacts on transportation and other surrounding infrastructure.

There was never a plan to build a second interchange in the Bellemont area. Rather, ADOT did a study in coordination with Coconino County in 2013 exploring the possibility of relocating the Bellemont interchange 800 feet to the east of its current location. This relocation did not move forward due to lack of funding and other challenges. At this time, there are no plans or funding to move forward with this effort. 

Additionally, since I-40 is considered a rural interstate highway, traffic interchanges must be a minimum of two miles apart with a preferred four-mile spacing for optimal operation of the highway based on state roadway design guidelines. A new interchange two miles east of the current one would cost around $30 million and would require Coconino County and other local jurisdictions to fund the construction of new roads and infrastructure both north and south of I-40 to connect the new interchange with the community.

In 2020, ADOT rehabilitated the bridges spanning I-40 at the Bellemont traffic interchange. This work included new steel girders and new concrete bridge decks. 

We stand ready to support Coconino County as the local agency responsible for land use and roadways in the Bellemont area as their support and leadership would be critical for any funding that becomes available to help improve transportation options for local residents.

However, after ABC15 reached out, ADOT did say they will approach the county on the potential of a joint study on an additional traffic interchange or other possible solutions. 

Operation Safe Roads will continue to monitor the situation.

Do you have a road issue or a question for the Operation Safe Roads team to investigate for you? Call 833-AZ-ROADS or email