FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation is preparing to declare an emergency since a section of U.S. Highway 89 collapsed last week.
The Navajo Nation Commission on Emergency Management convened at the Navajo Transportation Complex on Feb. 22 to discuss the 150-foot stretch of roadway, approximately 25 miles south of Page, a Navajo Nation press release said Friday.
The commission drafted an emergency declaration and is awaiting signature approval from Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly.
The road likely split and fell apart after what geologists refer to as a “geologic slump,” a kind of shift in the land that is likened to a landslide.
A slump occurs on hillsides that have a thick cover of loose, rocky debris, commonly taking place after heavy rains saturate the ground, according to the U.S. Geologic Survey.
“I don’t think it was a small earthquake or tremor. It appears to have been loose soil that eventually eroded,” said Taft Blackhorse, manager of the Navajo Division of Transportation’s Department of Project Management.
The geologic slump occurred at 5:09 a.m. Wednesday, the press release said. The highway since has been closed from mile post 544.50 to mile post 524.
Several Navajo chapters have been affected by the road closure and the commission cited concerns ranging from the transport of school kids and emergency medical service response, the release said.
Paulson Chaco, director of the Navajo Division of Transportation, is working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Coconino County to ensure maintenance of alternate dirt roads for the influx of travelers in the area.
“We have (Navajo Division of Tranportation) crews working with the BIA to complete blading activities and to assist with setting up electronic message boards to alert motorists of the road closure,” he said.
The Arizona Department of Transportation has detoured traffic at U.S. Highway 89A to Arizona State Road 98 and on to U.S. Highway 160 for motorists traveling to and from Page.
Navajo Nation Department of Emergency Management director Rose Whitehair said the Navajo Department of Transportation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Department of Roads have placed signage indicating “No Thru Traffic” and “No Trucks” for entrances on N20 and other dirt roads near U.S. 89, the release said.
A semi tractor trailer truck is stuck on N20 from an attempt to detour around the closed road.
N20 and other dirt roads in the area are not made for heavy truck traffic because of sandy conditions and patches of rough road.
“ADOT conducted a feasibility study to use N20 as a new alignment for a state road that would basically remove U.S. 89 off of their inventory,” Bradley said. “I guess it was cost prohibitive, so it never went any further than that.”
Presently, the Navajo Department of Transportation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs are looking into paving N20, the 28 mile stretch of dirt road from LeChee to Gap, which is estimated to cost at least $50 million. Plans are to tackle this task in phases.
Leonard Williams, a Navajo Police officer with the Tuba City District said ADOT is maintaining traffic control near the damaged roadway.
The Arizona Department of Transportation is maintaining traffic control near the damaged roadway, the release said. State officials said it could be more than two months before it is repaired.
The Navajo Department of Transportation and the Bureau of Indian Affairs are working with Coconino County to maintain nearby roads in anticipation of increased traffic.
For more information, visit the Navajo Department of Transportation’s website at www.navajodot.org