PHOENIX — After months of planning and negotiation, the Navajo Division of Transportation and Arizona Department of Transportation are ready to break ground on a paving project on Navajo Route 20.
The groundbreaking ceremony for the paving of N20 will take place at 11 a.m. on the Navajo Nation (10 a.m. MST in Arizona) on Sunday, June 9 at Tsinaabaas Habitiin Elementary School in Bodaway-Gap. ADOT Deputy Director of Transportation Jennifer Toth will be one of the designated speakers.
On May 28, ADOT officially began construction on N20.
The $35 million project will pave a 28-mile portion of dirt road, which travels from Bodaway-Gap north through Coppermine and ending in LeChee. N20 stretches a total length of 44 miles and has connected all three Navajo communities for more than 40 years.
The construction project is eligible for reimbursement through the Federal Highway Administration’s emergency relief program, which funds the repairs of roadways damaged by natural disasters.
ADOT closed a portion of US 89 on Feb. 20 after a landslide occurred and damaged the roadway near Bitter Springs.
Upon completion of paving, N20 will be designated as US 89T and will serve as a temporary detour route for traffic from the closed portion of US 89. After the reconstruction of US 89 is complete, the newly paved US 89T will be returned to the control of the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.
ADOT expects construction on US 89T to be completed in mid-August.
The Navajo Division of Transportation, ADOT, the Federal Highway Administration and the Bureau of Indian Affairs have been working together since the closure of US 89 to utilize N20 as a detour route.
“The paving of 28 miles of dirt road for use as an emergency detour route is unprecedented for Indian Country,” said Paulson Chaco, director of the Navajo Division of Transportation. “We have worked closely with ADOT and our other partners to realize this project.”
Immediately after the road closure, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly directed the Navajo Division of Transportation to work with ADOT on the possibility of paving N20 as an alternative detour route.
On Feb. 24, Shelly and Navajo Nation Executive Branch leadership organized a meeting at the Bodaway-Gap Chapter and met with residents affected by the road closure.
The Navajo Division of Transportation assisted ADOT with the expedient processing of a temporary construction easement for construction. The lengthy tribal process typically takes months and even years to complete. ADOT’s easement was processed within weeks through assistance from tribal departments and the BIA.
Currently, motorists are traveling a 115-mile detour, driving east on US 160 to State Route 98 north for access to and from Page. The US 89T detour route will reduce travel time and mileage by half.
For more information, please visit www.navajodot.org or www.azdot.gov/us89.