A 20-mile-long section of U.S. 89 is closed indefinitely after buckling in a landslide on February 20, 2013.

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A 20-mile-long section of U.S. 89 is closed indefinitely after buckling in a landslide on February 20, 2013.

Landslide Buckles Arizona Highway, Closing 20 Miles of U.S. 89 and Cutting off Parts of Navajo Nation

 

A landslide caused a 150-foot section of U.S. 89 in Arizona to buckle, indefinitely closing a 20-mile stretch of a major route serving the Navajo Nation.

The road collapse occurred in the early-morning hours of February 20, about 25 miles south of Page, Arizona, the state Department of Transportation said. The landslide “ripped through a section of US 89 along a mountain slope about 25 miles south of Page, buckling more than 150 feet of the roadway and tearing the pavement up in six-foot-high sections,” the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) said in a statement on its website.

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly petitioned the Obama Administration for emergency funds to repair the damaged highway, which connects key points on the reservation.

“It is a heavily used road serving Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe, many communities in northern Arizona near Page,” said ICTMN West Coast Editor Valerie Taliman. The highway is also used to access the Navajo Generating Station, as well as Antelope Canyon and Antelope Point.

The highway is closed along 20 miles north of its junction with U.S. 89A and south of its junction with State Route 98, Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) spokesperson Dustin Krugel told the Arizona Republic.

The Navajo Division of Transportation (NDOT) is working with ADOT and the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to suss out repairs, timetable and cost, NDOT said in a release. It was at first termed a “geologic event” by state officials. The event was later determined to be a landslide. People must now detour about 45 miles, which can easily add an hour or two to their journeys.

Shelly told affected residents that the road would be closed for at least eight months, according to a Navajo Nation statement. NDOT and the BIA may pave the 28-mile-long dirt road Navajo Route 20, which runs from Bodaway-Gap to LeChee and belongs to Arizona along with a 150-foot-wide right-of-way alongside, he said. That project alone will cost about $50 million, according to NDOT, and will be done in phases.

Shelly signed an emergency declaration to receive assistance for continuing emergency medical services, school transportation, commuters and the economic fallout on vendors and stores on the Nation.

Repairs of U.S. 89 will be lengthy and costly.

"I think that we're going to have to remove a large section of the roadway, including the soil below, and look at some sort of repair that includes rebuilding a space much further out than I think the current guardrail and slope would indicate,” said ADOT’s Senior Deputy State Engineer of Operations Rob Samour in the video below as he stood on the jagged highway. “Over the edge of the guardrail there are some cracks in the soil indicating that this movement was a couple of hundred feet down the slope."

News 12 of Arizona reported that two drivers who were traveling along the road around the time of the buckle nearly flew over the edge of the mammoth hole, but nobody was hurt.

Heavy rains could have caused the collapse of the roadway, which is built on a slope that cuts through rock that’s composed of sand and soft clay, Arizona State University geologist Steven Simpkin geologist told News 12, and the top ledges could have crumbled naturally over the years.

Definite repair amounts and procedures were not available at press time, but News 12 said it would take at least three months and millions of dollars for geologists and engineers to repair.

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