A little sleuthing reveals history behind an ‘unknown’ highway improvement

A little sleuthing reveals history behind an ‘unknown’ highway improvement

By Steve Elliott / ADOT Communications
May 24, 2023
A black-and-white photograph of a highway model of a traffic circle.

When time permits here at the ADOT Communications factory, I like to dive into the State Library, Archives and Public Records Arizona Memory Project and look at old photos of highway projects, equipment, people, etc. 

The other day, I came upon the photo above, dated 1942, with a heading that made me a little sad, then curious: Highway model for an unknown Arizona highway.

People obviously put a lot of thought and effort into the highway improvement depicted in the model. So I set about solving the mystery of this “unknown” highway improvement, including whether it was built and, if so, whether it’s still around. 

I’d like to pretend it took a lot of sleuthing, but I spotted “Warren” with the arrow pointing right and solved this mystery in a couple minutes using the Google Machine.

The model shows what 80-plus years later is commonly referred to as the Bisbee roundabout (a.k.a. Lowell traffic circle, after Bisbee’s Lowell district) in southeastern Arizona. It’s at the intersection of State Route 80, State Route 92 and Bisbee Road, between the Lavender Pit and Bisbee’s Warren district. You can view the real thing on Google Maps and even take a virtual drive via Street View. Or you can go to Bisbee, which is a neat and pretty place.

On Feb. 1, 1946, The Associated Press reported that the Arizona Highway Department was soliciting bids for a Lowell traffic circle “long sought by Bisbee and Douglas citizens.” Two weeks later, AP reported that Packard Contracting Co. submitted the low bid of $394,932.15. “The Lowell traffic circle is an engineering method of relieving traffic congestion on the Bisbee-Douglas highway near Lowell,” the article said. 

Despite my best efforts, I found no articles or state documentation saying when the contractor completed this improvement. But I did find Lowell traffic circle mentioned in newspaper advertisements and articles as early as 1949.

That’s quite a bit of history for something filed as “unknown.” And now that's changed. Based on this blog, I've had the most wonderful correspondence with the good people behind the Arizona Memory Project, and this photo now carries the title: Model of Lowell Traffic Circle in Bisbee Arizona


A GIF comparing a traffic model with an aerial view of the constructed roadway.

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