Since it was announced that a portion of State Route 89A would be closed to traffic at night for up to eight months, some have questioned if that applies to emergency vehicles.
Project spokeswoman Kristin Darr confirmed this week that emergency vehicles will have access through the construction zone at all times — both day and night.
The Central Federal Lands Highway Division of the Federal Highway Administration, in cooperation with the Arizona Department of Transportation and U.S. Forest Service, is widening and rehabilitating approximately 8.4 miles of State Route 89A. Work begins at the Vista Point Overlook and continues north to the J.W. Powell Boulevard intersection.
In an effort to complete the roadway improvements on State Route 89A as safely and efficiently as possible, the road is being closed nightly.
To work with the community, the nighttime closure was been changed on Monday, March 27, to 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Originally, the plan called for the closure to be from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. But following community input — primarily from local businesses that may be potentially impacted by the closure — all the parties involved agreed to change the schedule by an hour.
“The full closure is necessary due to the narrowness of the existing roadway, the existing condition of the roadway, the size of equipment needed to complete the work and the balancing of dirt from the west side to the east side of the roadway,” Darr said in a statement. “It is the goal of the project team to ensure a safe work zone for both the traveling public and onsite crew members.”
Sedona Fire District Chief Kris Kazian didn’t mince words when explaining the need for emergency crews to get through construction sites.
“Having access for emergency vehicles is critical in order to maintain our ability to respond as needed,” he said.
SFD’s fire coverage [unless an assistance request is made], extends to around the Sterling Springs Fish Hatchery in the canyon. However, medical calls can take crews as far as the overlook. So, he said to have that access is important if transporting a patient to Flagstaff Medical Center via 89A as opposed to taking the longer route north on Interstate 17.
Kazian added that SFD worked closely with the Highlands Fire District in 2014 when the switchbacks were completely closed due to construction. While not as drastic of a closure, the current construction may result in a similar type of mutual aid assistance, he said.
The main driver for the closure times is traffic volumes on this stretch of roadway, which are lowest at night, Darr said. During the day, lane closures to accommodate work will result in delays of at least 15 minutes. There are no lane restrictions allowed 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. to accommodate the heaviest daily traffic volumes. In addition, there will be no daytime restrictions on weekends or major holidays and there will be no overnight restrictions on major holidays.
The overall project includes the following improvements:
- Increasing the width of the shoulders so that vehicles can pull over safely.
- Adding passing lanes in select areas to help alleviate traffic queues entering and exiting the canyon and to improve traffic flow, allowing vehicles to pass safely.
- Improving the clear zone, the unobstructed, relatively flat area beyond the edge of the highway that allows a driver to stop safely or regain control of a vehicle that leaves the highway by flattening side slopes.