The fog of confusion that shrouds the issue of a highway bypass around Payson and Star Valley threatens a political pileup, but it could clear substantially this week.
The Payson Town Council thinks it's on the record supporting a highway bypass between highways 87 and 260, but Arizona Department of Transportation officials aren't so sure.
As a result, a long-debated, but never fully studied, 20-mile, $400-million link between the two highways isn't in ADOT's highway plan.
The idea of a bypass is on the agenda of the Payson Surface Transportation Advisory Committee on Wednesday, from 4-6 p.m. in the Town Hall Council chambers.
In addition, ADOT Prescott District Engineer Dallas Hammit will make a presentation on ADOT's planning process at the Thursday night town council meeting. That night's agenda also includes a council resolution supporting a bypass, which has in the past been a topic of hot debate on the part of Payson businesses afraid losing through-traffic will hurt them.
Assorted supporters of a bypass that would let drivers who don't need gas, food or a room for the night skip Payson and Star Valley en route to the White Mountains have been groping about for the last few weeks, trying to muster support and decide whether to push ADOT to divert other money to a bypass.
At the last Payson Town Council meeting, councilors voiced support for a bypass providing the town could annex and control the development of land along the route, which is now mostly owned by the Forest Service. The council favored a bypass as close to the edge of town as possible and which lacked any commercial services. In that case, people needing supplies would still divert into Payson.
However, ADOT's Hammit said a highway bypass around Payson currently isn't in the state's five-year plan. ADOT is currently holding a series of meetings statewide to come up with a priority "framework" list to guide future for highway construction. He said that he thinks ADOT started a feasibility study of a Payson bypass about a year ago, but doesn't know what became of that study.
"My guess would be the Payson bypass would be absorbed into these statewide framework studies," said Hammit.
He said if a Payson bypass did end up in the current "framework" plan, it would likely take at least a decade to complete.
"It would be unusual to get it any faster than that," he said.
Hammit dumped a 50-gallon drum of cold water on one idea bypass advocates have been pushing -- asking ADOT to move about $31 million in construction money allocated to widen Highway 260 east of Star Valley over to funding for a bypass.
Hammit said if residents did object to the current plan to widen Highway 260 from Star Valley on to the east through Little Green Valley, that money would likely shift to the next highest priority in the construction budget, he said.