Last stretch of Skywalk road to be paved

The road to Grand Canyon West, shown here in a July 2010 photo, winds through iconic southwestern landscapes.<BR>JC AMBERLYN/Miner

The road to Grand Canyon West, shown here in a July 2010 photo, winds through iconic southwestern landscapes.<BR>JC AMBERLYN/Miner

KINGMAN - After more than 20 years of dust, grit and dangerous curves, Diamond Bar Road will finally be paved all the way to Grand Canyon West.

The Hualapai Tribe recently awarded a $25 million contract to pave the last nine miles of the 14-mile road to Fann Construction Contracting from Prescott, said Erin Forrest, the tribe's project manager. The road leads visitors to the tribe's star tourism attraction - the Skywalk. The Skywalk is a glass-bottomed walkway that juts out over the edge of the canyon. It draws tourists from around the world.

"The tribe is very happy about this," he said. "One of the biggest complaints at Grand Canyon West has been the condition of the road."

The tribe paved the first 4.5 miles at a cost of $7.5 million in 2009. Currently, the last section of the road is nothing more than well-graded dirt, with several switchbacks and a large hill.

The tribe sought bids in December and opened bids on Jan. 24. It received five bids for the project ranging from $25 million to nearly $32 million.

The money for the project will come from the federal Indian Reservation Road Fund, which provides money to U.S. Indian tribes to build and repair roads on their reservations. The amount each tribe gets depends on the size of the reservation and its population. The Hualapai Tribe gets around $2 million to $4 million in road funds each year, Forrest said.

"The tribe has been saving up for this for the last 10 years," he said. "The money can only be used for roads."

The safety of motorists on the road has been a major issue for the tribe and Mohave County.

According to Mohave County's 2012 application for TIGER (Transportation Investment General Economic Investment Generating Economic Recovery) discretionary grant funds from the federal government, the road sees more than 827 vehicles per day and has 5.14 crashes for every 1 million vehicle miles traveled on it.

Forrest said Grand Canyon West had more than 700,000 visitors in 2011.

The Mohave County Sheriff's Office has run several traffic details on the road over the years in an effort to discourage motorists from speeding. The County Public Works Department also regularly grades the road.

Forrest said the project will be built to federal highway standards, which will require straightening parts of the road, reducing the grade on the switchbacks, adding guardrails and cutting 50 feet off the top of one of the hills and using the dirt to fill part of a wash on the other side.

Construction on the road is expected to start in April and take a year to complete.

Traffic will continue to roll while the contractor works.

Forrest admitted that might cause delays for visitors, but the tribe's contract with Fann Construction states that traffic can't be delayed more than 20 minutes. The contractor could see his pay delayed if motorists are delayed longer than 20 minutes.

"They're going to have to do some things piecemeal and move traffic from one side of the road and back," he said.

The project has been a joint effort by the tribe, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Mohave County since before the Skywalk was built.

"We started work on this project in the mid-1990s with an environmental impact statement," Forrest said.

The statement was designed to address some of the impacts the road would have on local wildlife, geology and neighbors.

The study was finished in 2002 but the project was held up after one of the tribe's neighbors, Nigel Turner, who owns the Grand Canyon West Ranch, sued Mohave County, the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management in 2004.

Turner claimed that the road, which at the time would have cut through the middle of his ranch, would harm his business.

The ranch is a location for getaway vacations, where visitors can learn how a cattle ranch works.

Turner settled his lawsuit in July 2007, four months after the Skywalk was completed.

The settlement required the road to be moved to the edge of his property.

He received $375,000 from the tribe's road maintenance fund and $5,000 from the U.S. Treasury Office in exchange for dropping the lawsuit.