At a recent meeting of the Alternate Bypass Route Task Force, Town Manager Fred Carpenter announced that a project of the magnitude of a highway bypass wouldn't begin construction for at least 20 years.
Twenty years. Well, that's a long time from now.
And Carpenter would know. He orchestrated Wickenburg's bypass when he was manager of that town.
Once that statement came out, the bypass suddenly seemed far in the future and much of the conversation people had been having about the pros and cons of a possible bypass died down.
To many, it was "much ado about nothing."
But the truth is, in the timeline of a town's life, 20 years is not a long time from now. And decisions made today will have an impact on the shape of the bypass decades from now.
Still a possible 20 years out, and position plays among private interests are already in the works. People will soon be buying land on speculation of where the route will be. Private maneuvering has begun, so should public maneuvering.
Residents of Payson and Star Valley need to be thinking about the shape of this project, rather than letting it be taken over by private interests.
We think it is important to continue talking about the bypass.
Opposing the bypass, we believe, is a moot point. The bypass is going to happen if for no other reason than Phoenix interests are going to make it happen.
Traffic on the Beeline Highway through town has increased by 2,100 cars a day in just three years, according to ADOT.
LaRon Garrett, the town's public works engineer, said his department estimated as many as 35,000 cars a day pass through Payson during peak season.
This kind of traffic will only increase, making the short drive through town more and more impossible to navigate during the height of summer.
What can we do now as a community to take the reins?
First, we need to decide whether we are going to put seed money into an engineering study that will determine the route of this bypass -- or are we going to sit back and wait for ADOT to make the first move? This is a decision that needs to be made by the Star Valley and Payson town councils.
We need to create a vision for the bypass that will benefit all interests. We believe the bypass should be on national forest land so it will remain non-commercial. Any traffic with a commercial need will go through town.
We need to make sure our interests are represented among decision making power positions in 20 years. We need to work toward getting a trusted member of our community on the ADOT board. Members of the board are appointed by the governor. We need to choose an individual and bring that person to the governor's attention.
We need to research small towns with similar economies who have been through this process. We are far enough ahead to ensure we do not make the same mistakes as those before us, and we can learn from their successes.
When it comes to planning long term in matters such as this highway bypass, tomorrow is today. And what are now coffee shop conversations should be transformed into focused, communitywide action.