Quick action and teamwork clears flood debris from US 89 in Page

Quick action and teamwork clears flood debris from US 89 in Page

June 8, 2015

ADOT's Equipment Services crew got traffic moving after mud and rocks blocked the roadway near Glen Canyon Dam.

By Doug Pacey
ADOT Office of Public Information

Something didn’t seem right to Thelma Begay.

Peering south toward the Glen Canyon Bridge from the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Equipment Services shop as a thunderstorm pummeled Page Friday afternoon, the account technician saw a line of traffic in both directions stopped on the bridge. She called over Shop Supervisor Scott Kennedy to take a look.

Kennedy, a 23-year resident of Page, knew something was wrong.

“Cars stopping on the bridge like that never happens, so I told her let’s drive down and see what’s going on,” Kennedy said. “Best case, it’s nothing. Worst case, we’ll see what we can do to help.”

That decision sent Page’s Equipment Services shop on a wet and muddy adventure that saved motorists from potential headaches and kept weekend getaway plans on schedule.

Kennedy and Begay hopped in one truck, while Equipment Repair Lead Technician Dustin Allen and Equipment Repair Technician Elias Tsinigine rode in another. When the two trucks made the three-quarter-mile jaunt down the hill on US 89 to the bridge, they encountered a river of mud and bowling ball-size rocks flowing across the highway at the entrance to the Glen Canyon Dam Visitor Center. Traffic heading in both directions was stop and go, and a Department of Public Safety officer was in the middle of the mudflow, directing vehicles.

Kennedy spoke to the officer and asked if ADOT had been notified. The officer said he had called in the incident, but ADOT’s Page Maintenance crews had not yet arrived to begin clearing the highway or take over traffic control.

“I told him we’d get the ball rolling,” Kennedy said.

He quickly learned that Page Maintenance crews were responding, but they were coming from the other side of the bridge and were stuck in the backup they’d been called on to clear. At ADOT, maintenance crews respond to traffic incidents for a variety of reasons, including when roadways need to be cleared of debris, when immediate roadway repairs are necessary and when DPS requests traffic control. Equipment Services is responsible for maintaining ADOT’s fleet of vehicles and its workers are rarely asked to report to an incident scene.

“The shops know when to look out for one another,” said Devin Darlek, equipment services administrator. “There have been many instances where the maintenance crews help out our shop personnel. To see it live, it’s like watching a great team playing on the field.”

By now, it was close to 1 p.m. and Kennedy knew something had to be done quickly.

“It’s a Friday afternoon,” he explained. “Everyone is coming to Lake Powell, people are towing boats, motorhomes are out there, lots of foreign tourists. It was going to be a mess.”

To Kennedy, the only option was for Equipment Services, which maintains and repairs ADOT vehicles, to step out of its comfort zone and clear US 89. On the foursome’s mind was the recent 25-month closure of US 89 south of Page because of a massive landslide.

“All four of us are cognizant of what it means to have the major route in or out of town cut off,” said Kennedy. “This was smaller, but we were definitely thinking about that.”

So, Kennedy directed Allen to drive a front-loader to the scene and clear large debris, while he and Tsinigine helped direct traffic to ensure Allen had enough space to operate. Begay stayed in a truck because the crew did not have enough orange safety vests for all to be working on the highway. The cleanup effort took about 20 minutes and traffic began flowing at a steady pace in both directions almost immediately.

“Dusty got the majority of the debris cleared,” Kennedy said. “It quit raining hard and that slowed the debris flow. Maintenance showed up and thanked us and they took over doing the dirty work of cleaning up all the muck.”

By 3:20 p.m., the highway had fully reopened, providing travelers easy passage to Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and points beyond.

Kennedy praised his co-workers for reacting quickly to a situation that called for action beyond their job descriptions, calling it a “whole team effort.”

“It was just common sense,” Kennedy said. “Felt to me like the right thing to do.”