YUMA, Ariz. (AP) To those who worked with him, it may not be an exaggeration to say Robert Vaughan was a driving force behind transportation in Yuma County.
In 1983, he became the first executive director of the Yuma Metropolitan Planning Organization, a transportation planning agency, and in that post, he was the architect for many of the countywide road projects and other transportation improvements over the next 15 years.
Now, in what might be called a fitting gesture, a planned highway that public officials say will play a crucial role in the county’s economic development has been named after him.
The $86.7-million Area Service Highway, or ASH, is a 23-mi., four-lane highway linking Interstate 8 to San Luis, AZ. Its purpose is to serve as a high-speed, limited- access highway from the Mexico border to the interstate.
The highway, which will begin construction in January, will also be known as Robert Vaughan Expressway.
“It couldn’t have happened without him,” said John Gross, who succeeded Vaughan in the role of YMPO executive director. “Early in the planning stages, there was a need identified to move truck traffic from the (U.S.) Port (of Entry) in San Luis, (AZ) to the interstate. We knew it had to happen, but where was the big question. What came out of that, through numerous years of work on Bob’s part, was the identification of the location.”
Vaughan was instrumental in forming the coalition of local governments that supported the project, Gross said, and that eventually led to its funding.
The YMPO, which is overseen by a board of local elected officials, was formed in 1983 to plan and coordinate countywide transportation projects and to administer federal and state funds allocated for those projects.
Vaughan served as executive director through 1998, when he retired because of the onset of multiple sclerosis. He previously worked as a transportation planner in the state of Washington.
“He was the person most responsible for getting the organization started,” Gross said.
During Vaughan’s time, YMPO had a hand in a number of projects, including the walking trails along the East Main Canal, the establishment of the emergency 911 phone system and the creation of Dial-A-Ride, a transportation service for the elderly and handicapped.
“It’s weird that Dial-A-Ride came into being and is now something he needs and uses,” said Sue Stallworth, who worked with Vaughan for 14 years as an administrative secretary and was the agency’s second employee. Vaughan said one of the things he will remember most fondly is seeing YMPO’s reputation grow.
“The word I like to think about is position,” Vaughan said. “I helped put YMPO in a position in the community and around the state to be recognized as such an agency.”
Stallworth described her former boss as a visionary who cares deeply for the community.
“I can’t even begin to tell you about all the great things that we thought at the time would never happen, but (did) because of him,” Stallworth said. “He is an extraordinary individual with an incredible vision of what could be. He brought some wonderful things to this community that people take for granted.”
In November, during a state transportation planning meeting at the Yuma Civic and Convention Center, YMPO board members presented Vaughan with a proclamation that the highway would be named after him.
In a recent interview, Vaughan said he was “flabbergasted” by the honor.
“It’s something you don’t ever expect,” he said.