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State Transportation Board approves funding for shorter US 89 detour

Navajo tribal road to serve as temporary US 89 route once paving is complete
April 12, 2013

PHOENIX — While the Arizona Department of Transportation forges ahead with its geotechnical investigation on the US 89 landslide and works on the long-term solution to restore the damaged highway, the agency is committed to restoring connectivity to the Page and Lake Powell region as quickly as possible.

With that in mind, the State Transportation Board approved funding to pave Navajo Route 20, a Navajo Nation tribal road that runs parallel to US 89, at its monthly meeting April 12 in Tucson.

While the primary detour to and from Page and the Lake Powell area has been established by using US 160 and State Route 98, ADOT acknowledges the 115-mile-long detour, which is 45 miles longer than the direct route, can be a burden on drivers who have to use it every day. By paving N20, the detour route would be cut nearly in half and similar in length to the closed US 89 route.

The $28 million N20 paving project is scheduled to start next month — as long as all right-of-way and environmental agreements can be obtained through the Navajo Nation, Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Navajo Division of Transportation.

“After numerous face-to-face meetings, roundtable discussions and several presentations from Window Rock to Flagstaff, ADOT and its many partners, including Navajo Nation, Navajo Division of Transportation, Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Federal Highway Administration, have demonstrated great teamwork to put us in position to begin paving Navajo Route 20 next month if all agreements can get signed, sealed and delivered,” said Dallas Hammit, ADOT deputy state engineer of development. “ADOT is anxious to move forward to pave this road and create a more direct temporary detour route.”

The project would improve the existing 44-mile-long tribal route and upgrade so it could accommodate the anticipated traffic volumes, including commercial truck traffic. The major work is paving 27 miles of dirt road stretching from Bodaway-Gap to LeChee.

Construction could begin next month. ADOT’s goal would be to complete the work by early summer.

The project is eligible for reimbursement through the Federal Highway Administration’s emergency relief program, which provides funding to state and local agencies for the repair or reconstruction of highways, roads and bridges that are damaged in natural disasters and catastrophic failures. ADOT has already received $2 million in quick release funds to assess the damage and the stability of the mountain slope, and conduct emergency operations.

Once the paving of N20 is completed, ADOT would designate the tribal road as Temporary US 89 (US 89T). After the reconstruction of US 89 is complete, US 89T will be relinquished to the Navajo Nation. There is no timetable for reopening the highway, but ADOT is committed to restoring this important travel route as soon as safely possible.

US 89 has been closed north of Bitter Springs and south of Page since Feb. 20 due to a landslide that buckled pavement on the mountain slope.

ADOT is currently conducting a geotechnical investigation, which is the first phase of the solution. Crews are monitoring the stability of the slope and the ultimate repair of US 89 will be based on the results of the geotechnical work.

ADOT has launched a range of communication tools, including a Web page (azdot.gov/us89) dedicated to keeping the public informed about the status of the closure and alternate travel routes, complemented by up-to-date video and photos of the roadway damage on US 89.