PHOENIX — Two years after a landslide ripped apart a 500-foot section of US 89 and split the communities of Bitter Springs and Page, the Arizona Department of Transportation anticipates reopening the highway to traffic in the early evening of Friday, March 27, barring any potential weather delays or mechanical breakdowns during the paving process, which began today.
Page Unified School District buses are expected to be the first vehicles to pass through newly rebuilt roadway. Students from the Bitter Springs and Marble Canyon areas have been among the most impacted by the US 89 closure, which has remained in place following the Feb. 20, 2013, geologic event approximately two miles north of the US 89/US 89A junction near the community of Bitter Springs.
Following the paving of Temporary US 89 in August 2013, US 89T has served as the detour route for motorists headed to and from the Page and Lake Powell areas, but residents and students in the Bitter Springs and Marble Canyon communities have still had to go out of their way to travel to and from Page and Lake Powell.
“The reopening of Highway 89 is great news for Page Unified School District and the families that we serve in the communities of Marble Canyon, Bitter Springs and Cedar Ridge,” said Page Unified School District Superintendent Jim Walker. “The district will be now be able to re-establish our traditional bus runs to these communities, which will reduce the time that some of these children spend on our buses by up to an hour on a one-way trip. I would like thank our families for their efforts to continue to support their children’s school attendance during this very challenging time.”
Prior to the March 27 reopening, crews will be completing the paving, install rumble strips and guardrail, and add temporary striping and pavement markers along the roadway.
Prior to launching the $25 million repair project last summer, which included removing approximately one million cubic yards of rock material to realign the roadway and construct a downslope rock buttress at the base of the Echo Cliffs to stabilize the area, ADOT had to clear several hurdles to move the project forward.
The ultimate repair of US 89 is the final step in fulfilling ADOT’s three-pronged approach to the US 89 landslide incident, which included providing immediate emergency access, conducting a geotechnical investigation and restoring essential traffic to the area. Paving US 89T (Navajo Route 20) has been the short-term solution for motorists driving to and from Page.
“ADOT recognizes the importance of this corridor and what it means to the communities of Bitter Springs, Cedar Ridge and Marble Canyon,” said ADOT Intermodal Transportation Division Director Steve Boschen. “While the Feb. 20, 2013, landslide event was certainly unexpected and a severe blow to the area, it was a reminder about how critical transportation infrastructure is to the motorists, businesses, local residents and schoolchildren who rely on it every day.”
After an extensive geotechnical assessment identified the necessary repairs in July 2013, ADOT retained an engineering firm and developed plans for the eventual repair; finalized all federally required environmental reviews that included cultural, biological and water quality measures; and completed plans for the required right-of-way easements.
ADOT, along with the Federal Highway Administration, Navajo Nation, Navajo Division of Transportation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, were able to expedite the environmental, utility and right-of-way clearance process, knowing that the use of US 89T was a temporary fix, especially for the Bitter Springs area communities.
The US 89 landslide repair 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.