Thick, black clouds of smoke billowed high into the air near the Payson Airport Wednesday morning causing some concern among nearby residents.
While alarming at first glance, the smoke and flames were actually a welcome sight for town staff, marking a significant step in a long-awaited project to build a new Airport Road.
"From a street department point of view, this is good news," said Steve Hansen, an engineering technician with the Town of Payson. "We're going to get a nice, new street to replace an existing street that is shot."
The new street is being constructed parallel to the old one and will start at the top of the hill on the existing Airport Road. It will extend west and reconnect at the west end of the airport, replacing almost a mile of the busy thoroughfare.
To make way for the new road, trees and other vegetation are being removed and burned in a process known as clearing and grubbing.
"This project isn't costing the town very much because it's mostly paid for by federal money, so very little is coming out of our streets budget," Hansen said.
The total construction cost for the new road will be approximately $1.8 million.
"FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) is paying 95 percent of the project costs," said Payson Public Works Engineer LaRon Garrett. "ADOT aeronautics, which is a division of ADOT, is paying 2.5 percent, and the town of Payson is paying 2.5 percent."
The town's portion will come to about $45,000.
"And this will be a nice road with sidewalks, curbs and gutters," Hansen said.
"Another thing that's important about this project is that the realignment will shift Airport Road to the south, allowing for future airport expansion," Garrett said.
The contract, which was awarded to Phoenix contractor Banicki Construction, allows six months to complete the road or by the end of April.
"We've been working on this for three or four years and we're very glad to see it finally coming to construction," Garrett said.
Bridging the gulch
Another large town construction project is scheduled to get under way next week to expand Westerly Road, to run between Main Street and Aero Drive.
The new road will include Payson's first official bridge that will traverse the American Gulch drainage channel.
The road will start near the fire station on Main Street and will terminate on the east side of Messinger Payson Funeral home at Aero Drive.
The Westerly Road project is expected to be complete by the end of March.