On June 9, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly broke ground on the Navajo Route 20, during a ceremony held at Tsinaabaas Habitiin Elementary School in Bodaway-Gap, Arizona.
Local residents have been waiting for the roadway for 40 years according to a Navajo Nation press release. The project consists of 28 miles of paved highway to serve as an alternative route for U.S. Highway 89 travelers.
The $35 million project is projected to be open by mid-August. The road will include fencing to protect travelers and livestock, turning lanes and culverts for drainage.
“Navajo Route 20 has been needing improvements for more than 40 years, and now we can begin a new chapter of travel not only for our local residents who will use the road the most, but for our visitors who help sustain the tourism economy of Northern Arizona,” Shelly said.
A landslide caused U.S. Hwy. 89 to close February 20 following a partial collapse about 25 miles south of Page, Arizona. The detour that travels U.S. 160 and State Route 98 has added 115-miles and 45 minutes of travel time.
For many residents a 30-minute commute turned into an hour and a half commute, stressing the community Shelly said because the increased distance in travel results in longer hours for school children and people community to work.
“I understood the hardships the closing of U.S. 89 created for our Navajo people. Not only were our children rerouted on longer bus routes and workers had to put in extra hours just to get to work, the local economy also too was affected by the road closure,” Shelly said.
According to the release, the groundbreaking was the continuation of months of planning, said Bureau of Indian Affairs Navajo Regional Director Sharon Pinto.
Through collaboration between the U.S. Highway Administration, Arizona Department of Transportation and the BIA, “this project became a reality,” Pinto said during the ceremony.
Council Delegate Duane Tsinigine, Division Administrator for the Federal Highway Administration Karla Petty, ADOT State Engineer Jennifer Toth and local leaders spoke during the ceremony.
“This new road is a blessing for the Navajo Nation and shows how partnerships with tribal, state, and federal agencies can positively improve the lives of Navajo people,” President Shelly said.