TUSAYAN, Ariz. - Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) is planning to widen the shoulder of Highway 64 on the north and south end of Tusayan with construction set to take place sometime this summer.
ADOT has not set a definite date for project to start but ADOT representative Dustin Krugel said the design of the project has been finalized and is anticipated to go out to bid in the next month.
Krugel said the project will include constructing eight-foot wide shoulders, to go along with continuous 12-foot-wide travel lanes, between mileposts 234-235 (near Grand Canyon Airport) and mileposts 236-237 north of Tusayan between the town and national park entrance gates. ADOT said the project will skip the town of Tusayan (located at milepost 235).
Tusayan council members said they were concerned about the project, because it could cause heavy traffic backups and delays going into the town and at entrance gates at the park, which already have problems with long wait lines because of increased tourism at the Canyon.
The town sent a letter to ADOT last year stating their concerns for traffic delays and asking ADOT to consider changing the start date for the project.
"Just seeing how traffic backs up on a normal day, let alone with traffic work being done on the roads, the town's request was that they find a slower time, such as now, before spring break or after Labor Day to do this project," said Eric Duthie, Tusayan town manager.
ADOT responded by saying one lane would be open to traffic at all times and work would not be done on weekends or holidays.
"The intent of the traffic control during construction of this project is to maintain one lane in each direction of travel at all times," the ADOT letter said. "Temporary lane closures may be required by the contractor and would be very short duration with flagging operations, if necessary...there will be no work on weekends or holidays, so there will be no change in those traffic patterns - therefore we won't be affecting traffic in town during those times."
"If that's the case there will be some slowing but perhaps not as much if they were to close traffic lanes," Duthie said. "But that's yet to be seen."
Additionally, ADOT said delaying the project until the fall would be too much of a risk when it came to inclement weather.
ADOT specified that the project will skip the town of Tusayan but will continue north of Tusayan, including the mile separating Tusayan and Grand Canyon National Park.
In an earlier council meeting the national park stated their concern over increased visitation and long wait lines at park entrance gates. To help offset congestion, the park recently hired 20 employees specifically to work the front gates and said they plan to have all six lanes open to help minimize wait times during the upcoming season.
"Visitation to the parks have increased," said Dawn Ryan, transportation specialist at Grand Canyon National Park. "It's huge and we expect visitation to increase this year again."
Krugel said the cost of the project is unknown at this time but is included in ADOT's five year plan.
"The project is currently programmed for $2.7 million in ADOT's Five-Year Transportation Facilities Construction Program in Fiscal Year 2016," he said.