6/11/2013 9:33:00 AM Paving work begins on Navajo Route 20
Representatives from the Navajo Nation, Arizona Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Coconino County, and local chapter officials smiled after breaking ground for Navajo Route 20. After months of planning and negotiations, construction of the roadway is officially underway. Photo/Rick Abasta
Workers prepare to pave N20. Photo/Navajo Department of Transportaion
BODAWAY GAP, Ariz. -- After months of planning and negotiations, paving will begin this week on Navajo Route 20, making it easier for visitors and locals alike to travel to Page, Ariz.
A groundbreaking ceremony took place Sunday at Tsinaabaas Elementary School in Bodaway Gap.
The $35 million project will pave a 28-mile portion of dirt road, which travels from Bodaway Gap north through Coppermine and ends in LeChee.
N20 stretches a total length of 44-miles and has connected the three Navajo communities for more than 40 years.
"The paving of 28 miles of dirt road for use as an emergency detour route is unprecedented for Indian Country," said Paulson Chaco, director of the Navajo Division of Transportation (NDOT). "We have worked closely with the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) and our other project partners to realize this project."
Once ADOT completes paving of N20, the agency will designate the tribal road as Temporary State Route 89 (SR 89T). After the reconstruction of U.S. 89 is com-plete, ADOT will relinquish SR 89T to the Navajo Nation. ADOT expects construction to be complete on SR 89T with the road driveable by mid-August.
A landslide buckled pavement and closed U.S. 89 north of Bitter Springs and south of Page Feb. 20. The primary detour route to and from Page and the Lake Powell area uses U.S. 160 and State Route 98, but the 155-mile-long detour is 45 miles longer than the direct route. By paving N20, ADOT will cut the detour route nearly in half and make it close to the length of the normal U.S. 89 route.
Immediately after the road closure, Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly directed agencies to look at the possibility of paving N20 as an alternative detour route.
"We have followed President Shelly's directive and here we are three months later, with a groundbreaking ceremony and construction underway," Chaco said.
The tribal process for a temporary easement for construction can take months or even years to complete. Tribal departments and the Bureau of Indian Affairs processed ADOT's easement within weeks.
Chaco said the cooperation between agencies has been a great working relationship and he is optimistic the collaboration will lead to other opportunities to improve transportation on the Navajo Nation.
More information can be found at www.navajodot.org.