Mystery as giant sinkhole opens gaping chasms measuring SIX FEET deep across 500 feet of pavement on Arizona roadway
PUBLISHED: 00:00 EST, 22 February 2013 | UPDATED: 11:40 EST, 22 February 2013
A giant sinkhole opened on an Arizona road and ensnared two cars on Wednesday, leaving several gaping holes nearly six feet deep and closing the road indefinitely.
The Arizona Department of Transportation says the stretch of U.S. 89 in northern Arizona will remain closed indefinitely because of damage to the roadway about 25 miles south of Page. Two of the drivers ensnared by the sinkhole reported minor injuries.
While the agency is still trying to determine what exactly happened to cause the ground to shift beneath the road, the agency continues to assess the significant damage to the highway. Geotechnical engineers are currently evaluating the stability of the mountain slope on which the road sits.
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‘This area encompasses close to 500 feet of damaged pavement, but we had the opportunity in the plane to circle the area twice and it looks like the settlement could be a lot larger,’ said Robert Samour, ADOT senior deputy state engineer of operations. ‘The area over the guardrail drops off a couple hundred feet; we saw some cracking in the soil down the slope, so I would say that this is probably a 500- to700-foot section that we’re going to have to take a good look at for settlement.’
There is no timetable to reopen the highway, which has over 150 feet of pavement that buckled approximately four to six feet.
Drivers who are traveling to Lake Powell and southern Utah will need to plan for extra travel time. The alternate route requires motorists to travel east on US 160 to State Route 98 and north on SR 98 to Page. The detour is about 45 miles longer than the direct route.
In an effort to get federal funding for the future repair project on US 89, ADOT is working with the Arizona Division of Emergency Management and the Arizona Governor’s Office on an emergency declaration that will allow ADOT to receive reimbursement for the highway reconstruction.
Regardless, ADOT has begun the assessment process and is moving forward with the geotechnical investigation, and then the engineers will look at permanent fix which will be paid for using ADOT funding.
‘We’re going to work on reconstructing the damaged highway as quickly as possible, although it’s premature to lay out a timeline,’ Samour said. ‘We recognize how important US 89 is the community of Page and the Lake Powell region and that’s why we met with key stakeholders today, including the mayor of Page. We will work through the process of determining what happened beneath the highway and figure out a best plan for a long-term fix.’
The highway has been closed since Wednesday at 5:42am.