PHOENIX — Drivers headed to Page and the Lake Powell area this Labor Day weekend will have another option when the Arizona Department of Transportation opens the newly paved Temporary US 89 route (US 89T) on Thursday, August 29, albeit with some restrictions.
The limited-access opening will occur following the formal Navajo Nation dedication ceremony marking substantial completion of the project. The former Navajo Route 20 route (known locally as Coppermine Road) runs parallel to US 89 from The Gap to LeChee and is accessible on US 89, approximately 17 miles north of the US 160 junction (Tuba City exit).
While the 27-mile paving operations have been completed, US 89T remains an active construction zone as crews continue to install right-of-way fencing along the corridor, which has a large amount of livestock.
Until fencing is complete, US 89T will be open during daylight hours only (except for local residents) and there will be a 25 mph speed limit in place. When construction is complete, the speed limit will be raised and nighttime restrictions will be lifted.
When traveling on US 89T, ADOT urges motorists to slow down, pay attention to their surroundings and be aware that this roadway is prone to animal crossings, including horses, goats, cows and dogs.
The $35 million paving project to adopt N20 temporarily into the state highway system was finished only three months after breaking ground, an impressive feat considering the 44-mile-long tribal route was primarily a dirt road before work began in late May.
By paving US 89T, the detour route travel time was cut in nearly half and is similar in length to the closed US 89 route. Immediately after the US 89 landslide, ADOT set an alternate route along US 160 and State Route 98, but the 115-mile-long route created a heavy burden for drivers because it was 45 miles longer than the direct route. With the restricted opening of US 89T, however, the US 160-to-SR 98 detour route may still be a faster option for drivers.
“After the Feb. 20 landslide, ADOT quickly moved to establish a designated detour route along US 160 and SR 98 to ensure motorists could travel through the region,” said Jennifer Toth, deputy director of transportation. “But we knew that detour route, with its additional 45 miles, posed a negative impact to those community members who rely on US 89 every day. That’s why this project was so critical to complete in record time.”
Early on, N20 stood out as a better route for an interim US 89 detour because of its direct access to Page, but there were several obstacles to overcome. The most obvious was bringing the sandy, mostly dirt roadway up to highway standards.
Without paving and significant roadbed improvements, N20 would not be able to accommodate the volume of traffic that US 89 carries daily, let alone commercial truck traffic. Approximately 300,000 cubic yards of soil needed to be moved onto the roadway before the gravel and asphalt could go down. To complete the 27 miles of paving – which included fencing, cattle guards, centerline rumble strips and striping throughout the entire corridor – about 5,000 truck loads are asphalt were needed.
Equally important to the project’s success was the collaboration between the various stakeholders involved, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Navajo Division of Transportation, Navajo Nation and the Federal Highway Administration.
“Without this direct collaboration between ADOT, tribal leaders, chapter presidents and the Navajo Division of Transportation, we would not have been able to finish a project of this magnitude in such a short time frame,” Toth said. “It is the existence of this dedicated partnership between ADOT and the Navajo Nation that helped expedite the Federal Highway Administration’s release of $35 million in emergency relief funds.”
The US 89T project was 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.
US 89T is not part of the ultimate solution to repair US 89, which has been closed north of Bitter Springs and south of Page since Feb. 20 due to a landslide that buckled pavement along the mountain slope in the Echo Cliffs area.
After an extensive geotechnical investigation of the US 89 landslide, ADOT’s proposed solution is to move the travel lanes away from the active landslide and construct a gravity buttress to stabilize the area. The projected $40 million repair is expected to take more than two years to complete, and will include significant environmental and right-of-way clearances prior to construction.
After the reconstruction of US 89 is complete, US 89T will be returned to the Bureau of Indian Affairs and will be referred to again as Navajo Route 20.
ADOT has 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, including US 89T, complemented by up-to-date video and photos of the roadway damage on US 89.