PRESCOTT - With about 350 truckloads of dirt crossing Highway 89 every day, drivers traveling through the construction at the 69/89 interchange are feeling virtually non-stop impacts.
As a part of the Arizona Department of Transportation's $23.6 million interchange overhaul, crews recently began shaving 250,000 to 300,000 cubic yards of dirt off the hill in front of Yavapai College.
ADOT officials say the dirt removal is necessary to make way for an additional south Highway 89-to-Sheldon lane, as well as a multi-use path - both of which will be part of the revamped interchange.
While the dirt work began in January, ADOT Resident Engineer Andy Roth said wet winter weather kept it to a minimum early on. With the recent return of dry weather, the earthwork has escalated to an everyday occurrence during the weekdays.
Tom Billings, the construction manager with the Tempe contractor FNF Construction, reported that 13 trucks currently are working on the project and are making about 350 total trips a day across the highway.
Because the contractor has two loading tools working at the top of the hill, Billings said, the trucks are filling up quickly and are on an almost continual rotation.
Roth explained that the trucks are making the trip from the top of "College Hill," and are crossing Highway 89 and turning onto the Prescott Resort's back entrance road. From there, they are traveling to the Highway 69/Heather Heights area, where they are dumping the dirt, before returning to the excavation site, via Highway 69.
Roth said ADOT chose the Heather Heights dumping spot, because the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe needed the dirt to fill in a hole in the area.
The parade of trucks is causing traffic delays for much of the day. Roth said the work runs from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Drivers can expect similar delays through the spring and early summer. Roth said the earth-moving work likely would continue into July - throughout the first two phases of ADOT's interchange work.
During the dirt moving, the contractor has stationed flaggers at the intersection of Highway 89 and the VA hospital entrance. The flaggers regularly stop the highway traffic to allow the large trucks to cross.
Roth noted that ADOT has received a number of complaints from drivers who are experiencing delays - especially in the morning rush hour, between about 7:30 to 8 a.m.
Along with the truck traffic, he said crews "still have to get the VA traffic through there," which further contributes to the delays on Highway 89.
However, other than rush-hour times, Roth said workers have been able to keep traffic from stacking up significantly.
"We're trying to do whatever we can out there," he said.
The 69/89 interchange project, which has been in the works for years, includes a new overpass bridge, the relocation of the entrance to the VA hospital, widening and reconstruction of the two highways, and a multi-use trail.
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