CIn Page, Marble Canyon and the Lake Powell region, tourism is a major contributor to the economy with more than two million visitors annually — and tourism season is beginning to ramp up. When a February landslide on US 89 closed off direct access to the area, the Arizona Department of Transportation made it a priority to keep traffic moving while coming up with solutions to the complex, long-term problem on the highway.
Immediately after the Feb. 20 landslide buckled the pavement on US 89 and cut off the direct route between Bitter Springs and Page, ADOT quickly established detour routes that were determined to be the safest, most efficient means to get to and from Page and southern Utah.
While fixing the damaged roadway on US 89 is ADOT’s top priority, an equally important task has been the need to communicate and raise awareness about the closure and the detour routes, particularly as the busy tourism season approaches.
The primary detour route to Page and the Lake Powell area is to travel east from US 89 on US 160 (Tuba City exit) for approximately 50 miles and northwest on State Route 98 for 65 miles, which is approximately 45 miles longer than the direct route. The route is marked as “US 89 Detour.”
“People believe that they can’t get to Page, which is definitely not true at all,” said Traci Varner, the general manager of the Page/Lake Powell Days Inn and Suites hotel on US 89. “The detour route is actually a pretty ride. It’s just a little out of the way, but it’s a beautiful ride.”
It’s important to note that US 89A is not affected by the closure. As an alternate to the primary detour route, motorists have the option to take northbound US 89A through Marble Canyon toward Fredonia to reconnect to US 89 in southern Utah. Also, beginning in mid-May, State Route 67, which provides access to the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park, is expected to reopen after its annual winter shutdown.
“We are all making sure we are going to make the best of it and find the silver lining of what’s going on here and be able to communicate correctly with people,” said Colorado River Discovery Operations Manager Korey Seyler, whose rafting company is now dropping off visitors at the Glen Canyon River Dam area, instead of Lees Ferry because of the closure between Bitter Springs and Page.
While it may take a little longer for people to travel to Page and Lake Powell, it hasn’t dampened the spirits. According to Roy Boughton, the executive director of the Page/Lake Powell Chamber of Commerce, Page and other northern Arizona communities affected by the unexpected closure are making the best of the situation.
“The landslide that inhaled US 89 has really energized the people of Page,” said Boughton. “The first reaction was surprise. There seemed to be some negativity or worry about it. Then people start to get together and they are repeating words like ‘make lemonade.’”
ADOT is currently conducting a geotechnical investigation at the US 89 landslide site, which is the first phase of the solution. Crews are monitoring the stability of the slope and the ultimate repair of the highway will be based on the results of the geotechnical investigation. Efforts also continue on exploring the use of Navajo Route 20 as a temporary detour route while US 89 repairs are addressed.
ADOT launched a Web page (www.azdot.gov/us89) dedicated to keeping the public informed with the latest news, alternate routes, and up-to-date videos and photos of the roadway damage on US 89.
Congresswoman Visits Area
Friday afternoon, U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., joined Arizona Department of Transportation officials on a tour of the U.S. Highway 89 collapse site in northern Arizona.
District One’s Kirkpatrick, who is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, wrote a letter in February urging the U.S. Department of Transportation to support ADOT’s request for emergency assistance. In March, the federal agency released $2 million for initial emergency repairs and the process is moving forward.
In addition to the U.S. 89 tour, Kirkpatrick visited a Tuba City detention center and met with educators and students at an elementary school in Bodaway-Gap. The visits wrapped up a weeklong tour across District One, which started Monday at the Marana Aerospace Solutions facility, the Marana Food Bank and the Sanofi-aventis Research Center in Oro Valley’s Innovation Park.