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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : latest news : latest news April 15, 2014

2/1/2013 12:01:00 AM
Patch work: Hole opens up on Highway 89 bridge over Hell's Canyon
Matt Santos/Special to the CourierMetal plates cover a large hole in the Highway 89 bridge over Hellís Canyon.
Matt Santos/Special to the Courier
Metal plates cover a large hole in the Highway 89 bridge over Hellís Canyon.
Scott Orr
The Daily Courier

PAULDEN - A two-foot-wide hole opened up on the southbound side of the aging Highway 89 Hell's Canyon bridge on Jan. 19, forcing the Arizona Department of Transportation to make an emergency repair.

"The crews immediately closed down the southbound lanes of the bridge," said Dustin Krugel, an ADOT spokesman, "and they added some steel plates to the bridge," located about 17 miles south of Ash Fork and Interstate 40.

He said ADOT would have to make some further repairs within the next month, and that "would be more of an intermediate solution."

The steel bridge, built in 1954, was deemed "structurally deficient" in 2011, according to an online database, and will need to be rebuilt.

"We've actually been looking at replacing the entire bridge in the near future," Krugel said, but design hasn't been started and there is currently no money for such a project on the 600-foot span.

The phrase "'structurally deficient' doesn't mean the bridge is unsafe or about to collapse," he said. "It means that repairs have been identified and recommended through the inspection process.

"We would never allow anyone to travel on a bridge if it was deemed unsafe," he said.

The bridge carries about 3,400 vehicles a day, according a 2009 study, and closure would mean a lengthy detour to drive between Ash Fork and Paulden, Chino Valley and even Prescott.

However, Seligman resident Maxine Howington is not confident in ADOT's assessment of the bridge's soundness.

She is the nurse for Ash Fork schools, in addition to serving on the Joint Technical Education District (JTED) Board, which meets in Prescott. She also travels to Prescott once a week for personal needs, as do many others, she said. More than concern for herself, though, is her worry about JTED students from Seligman and Ash Fork who travel the road twice a day, five days each week to attend classes in the Prescott area - "not to mention the driving public and commercial traffic," she said.

The bridge's "center about the size of a semi-truck tire just fell - boom," Howington said. "ADOT's answer was to cover the hole with silver plates and reduce the speed limit to 35 mph."

She also learned from ADOT officials that "if the bridge was unsafe, they would shut it down immediately."

Her response to ADOT now is, "You say it's safe. Show us. Tell us what kind of testing you did. Tell me why I need to believe you. Are they (ADOT employees) bridge-testing experts? The hole is covered, but is the rest of the bridge OK? What testing did ADOT do?

"Our kids, our neighbors, our friends," including 12 Ash Fork staff members, "drive that bridge every day."

Prescott resident Brian Pereira, who is vice principal of Ash Fork Elementary School, drives across the bridge at least four days a week, and sometimes five or six days.

Based on the "structural deficiency" rating and "knowing it's a major route for business purposes and educators for the Ash Fork district who live in the quad-cities, we feel it's very negligent of ADOT not to address the issue earlier," he said.

The bridge is a risk for people who drive that route daily, he said, even though ADOT has told people it checks the bridge twice a day.

"There's a strong chance there will be an accident on that bridge, and nobody's going to be there. They will be checking on it after the fact, after the bridge fails."

Pereira also questions state money spent on the tribal connector that will link highways 89 and 69.

Money going toward the tribal connector versus fixing a bridge on a major thoroughfare is "negligent," he said.

Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, February 10, 2013
Article comment by: Cara R.

Trust ADOT to guarantee this bridge is safe for us to cross? I don't think so!! ADOT was asked time and time again to make the 'passing zone' across Hell Canyon Bridge into a SOLID YELLOW LINE NO PASSING ZONE.....they refused and said it was 'safe' to pass on that bridge. Oh really? When you are southbound, immediately before the bridge, there are huge juniper trees that block the view of the bridge completely. Time after time, we have had to STOP because someone is passing while coming across that bridge....and that is what causes the head-on crashes. But ADOT tells us that it is safe. Wrong ADOT! And now ADOT is telling us that the bridge, that now has a metal plank over a 2 ft. wide HOLE right in the middle of the bridge is also safe? This is a tragedy waiting to happen, and I agree with another poster who said that ADOT and the government in general wait for someone to die before they do anything......and even then, they don't. This is B.S. Stop building all your rotary (round-abouts) ADOT........we don't need them! Fix our bridge!

Posted: Sunday, February 10, 2013
Article comment by: Cory Saz

Money could have come from the huge waste that occurred at I 17 & Hwy 69. What a mess, bridges running every which way, a second overpass a mile north of that. Then the bs widening fain rd to speed up traffic only to stop them with traffic lights. We don't need high speed freeways, slow down and enjoy the scenery.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Donnie Baker

Democrat solution: Create a state lottery that will pay for our roads..,and then the money went where?
I gotta go.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Donnie Baker

@ bridges mixed up:.No, there was a nasty Head on collision on Hell Canyon overpass as well. But anyway, perhaps we could get the permission of BNSF railroad to cross on their train bridge right at the Cement plant. Or Load some of their car hauling railroad cars with all 3,400 crossers throughtout the day, kinda like a train ferry eh? As for the 10 minute detour @have hope? To where the old 89 bridge? which is way more ancient and crumbling each day..Lol, Oh and hello? There is a huge fairly new Cement plant right there, problem solved , i bet they end up pitching in big time to get us a new bridge that their new business and trucks has created much more "Heavy" traffic the past few years. Hope it dont take too long, my favorite fishin' hole is right on that route......i gotta go

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Dorisa Green

At what point does "structurally deficient" mean dangerous? Since the other poster, an engineer said it means in needs "extensive Maintaince or repair". That sure sounds like a problem waiting to happen ( oh wait it has happened, there is a giant hole in the road!). So we can go how many years being "Structually Deficient" before we correct the problem? It is about time the boys in Phoenix got off their chairs and made a trip North to take care of a problem that has been a problem they have known about for a long time. When someone, or many someones die due to this, I hope they will be able to sleep at night.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Two Feet Wide?

A hole only two feet wide? Pretty easy to straddle that with even a small vehicle. C'mon people, get some b***s!

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: And we are on a highwayy to......

Hell... I swear

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: I'm Down Here Just Wainting 4 U

It ain't called Hell Canyon for nothing!

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: @ Have Hope

Have Hope, you have your bridges mixed up the head on collision that you refer to was on the ne railroad over pass just north of the Hell's Canyon Bridge. The Hell's canyon bridge along with all others in the state are inspected by specially trained bridge inspectors in ADOT's Engineering Group.

The super rough pavement on 89 just north of Hell's canyon is most likely caused by swelling soil. The whole road needs to be torn out and the subsoil needs to be injected with a lime slury so the soil will stop absorbing water and swelling.

There is no cheap easy way to detour the amount of traffic that travels Highway 89 on a daily basis.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Attentive Listener

We need infrastructure. Close down the F-35 project and spend that trillion dollars fixing bridges and dams. It'll create jobs, too. Someone just needs the political cojones to do it.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Second Picture

In the second picture the photographer should get off the bridge so vehicles don't have to drive directly over the hole and fall into the canyon.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Hava Javelina

@Bout Time --

SNORT! Bout Time for president!!!

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: @ have hope

That detour to Drake, even on your best day, will not get you anywhere in 10 minutes but Drake. Start rerouting all the traffic from the highway onto a two-lane dirt road, and 10 minutes will be how long it takes you to figure out that you just added an hour to your trip. And those big trucks tearing up the highway also pay an enormous share of highway taxes. Don't blame the truckers for bureaucrats mismanaging the public's money.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Michael S. Ellegood, PE

I am a bridge engineer and have spent a lifetime in bridge and roadway design, inspection, repair and maintenance. I have also worked as a consultant for ADOT and many other DOTs. While skeptical of government in general, I have the utmost confidence in ADOT's bridge section. These folks are consummate professionals. If they say the bridge is safe, believe them. "Structurally Deficient" does not mean unsafe, it simply means that the bridge requires extensive maintenance or repair. That designation also make the bridge eligible for federal repair/replacement dollars. ADOT will do the right thing so, Maxine, make your trips to Prescott in confidence.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Frank Lee Confused

Democrat solution: Raise taxes and replace the bridge.

Republican solution: Cut taxes, wait for an emergency, then borrow the money from taxpayers to replace the bridge.

Libertarian solution: Eliminate taxes and sell the bridge to the highest bidder who will either "repair" or replace the bridge (with private funding) and then charge a toll for bridge use for the rest of it's useful life.

Green solution: Stay home and do yoga in your living room.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Bout Time

Maybe if ADOT spent our time and money maintaining the existing roads instead of building those confound Roundy-Bouts, we wouldn't have problems like this!!

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Coyote Geezer

Ghost of the past, ah ha!

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: tired of it all

"We would never let anyone travel on a bridge if it was deemed unsafe". Yet, the bridge was "structurally deficent" in 2011. And I'm willing to bet if anything happend to this bridge the money to replace it would magicly appear. Government philosopy states that people must die first before we spend money to fix things.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Right time

Now Is the right time to get williamson valley road paved all the way to Seligman. It would save travelers time and we would always have a decent detour to I-40.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Alan Whitney


Reminds me of the time when the South bound number two lane, emergency lane, and roadbed if I-17 slid off into a canyon south (?) of the scenic overlook, south of Flagstaff.

This was back around '78 or so...

Or when the entire North bound bridge over the Santa Cruz River, on I-19, collapsed almost in front of my eyes during the heavy rains of the '80's.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: An American

@Have hope, and when they have sent us to the cement plant, then what, Perkinsville or Williams?

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Joe Pandoli

So, about a year after ADOT spent however much tax money to have the bridge resurfaced with some epoxy type goop, they determine it is "structurally deficient?" More wasted money.

"have hope", were you detoured after the fatal accident on the bridge? A friend was, Drake Rd to Perkinsville Rd. That is a lot longer than a 10 minute detour.

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: BRADD THOMAS


Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Hmmmmm Hmmmm

It's called "Expansive Soil"!

Posted: Friday, February 01, 2013
Article comment by: Felipe G

@@ Have hope

How is a detour through Drake Cement going to add 10 minutes at the most? The old Hell Canyon bridge now carries a conveyor belt for the cement plant and the entire area around it is an active blasting zone.


Kinda. The old 89 Bridge is still there, but like I said before, it carries some sort of conveyor system and all the roads leading to the bridge are closed off to the public.

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