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US 89 Construction Project Has Begun

August 27
16:52 2014
US 89 6

How US 89 looked following the February 2013 landslide south of Page.

A $25-Million project to get US 89 up and running again began earlier in August and experts believe that the road should be open to traffic once again, “by next year’s tourist season.” FNF Construction out of Tempe has been hired to perform the work. It was also FNF Construction that completed the paving project last year on US 89T.

The Public Information Officer for ADOT, Dustin Krugal, calls this a very complex project.

One of the more time-consuming and difficult aspects of the project is keeping an active emergency access road open so that emergency vehicles can get to and from Bitterspring and other outlying communities south of Page. The access road is also vital for keeping the work operating with massive trucks and other vehicles needed for the construction.

ADOT US 89 Construction

Dusten Krugel talking to the media.

According to the senior project engineer, Steve Monroe, excavation is a huge part of the job. He says over a million containers of dirt, equivalent to a three foot by three foot by three foot box each, has to be transferred from atop the hill where the landslide occurred, to the bottom, in order to build a buttress below where the new highway portion will be constructed.

Our plan right now is to have it open hopefully by the end of April. That’s in a perfect world. If we have other delays with equipment or more land sliding or something like that, that can change things. But our goal is by the end of April to have traffic back on the highway.” – Steve Monroe Senior Resident Engineer

Monroe stresses that while right now an observer wouldn’t see anything inherently dangerous about the work; it is!

If that hillside decided to slide down, it can be very dangerous,” he said. “You’ve got these big trucks driving around, and you have these other smaller (construction) vehicles, there’s always an element of that (danger.)”

He went on to say they have a safety meeting with the workers every morning.

“There’s a lot of risks here. But when risks are managed, it’s OK to get down there and take those risks. We take it very seriously.”

There have apparently been tourists or other motorists who have actually pushed the gates away and continued on their way toward the construction site. Monroe says that issue, for the most part, stems from foreigners who may have GPS-type systems that have not been updated to include the US 89 detour. They haven’t understood the signs approaching the closed area and they don’t know what to do.

“We had to keep beefing-up our security measures as people kept trying to get around our stuff.”

When the landslide occurred, and before they could figure out how to best re-build the roadway, Monroe says they had to find the cause of the landslide.

When this happened there was no seismic activity in the area,” he said. “There had been no rain recorded in the area and there are no known springs in the area; things that make chunks of dirt slide. So the problem became, ‘How can we fix the problem if we don’t know what caused the problem?'”

Basically, he said they needed to know the cause because they didn’t want to fix it and six months later have it happen again. Interestingly, as it turned-out, the cause, according to Monroe, was an ancient landslide from anywhere from ten thousand to ten million years ago, that just decided to continue sliding all these years later.

“It could be the butterfly effect,” said Monroe. “One too many of them landed…and who knows why?”

A 23-mile stretch of US 89 was closed immediately following the landslide (between mileposts 523-546).  The work on fixing the road began in early August following completion of all federally required environmental, right-of-way and utility clearances, followed by the selection of a contractor. Without any unexpected delays, we can expect US 89 to re-open next spring.

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