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Landslide damage near Bryce Canyon National Park will cost an estimated $3 million to fix, and will keep State Road 12 one of Utah's most popular scenic byways limited to a single lane in a mile-long stretch for a month or more.
That highway runs between Panguitch and Torrey, and is a gateway to Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef national parks, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Kodachrome Basin and Escalante Petrified Forest state parks.
The Utah Transportation Commission, meeting in St. George on Friday, approved $3 million in emergency funding to repair the highway and stabilize the slope after sections of the outside lane slid down the hillside on Feb. 24. The slide was 5.5 acres in size, and dropped 1,100 feet.
That slide occurred at mile marker 14.8, just east of the turnoff to Bryce Canyon and between that national park and the towns of Tropic, Cannonville, Henrieville and Escalante.
John Gleason, spokesman for the Utah Department of Transportation, said traffic there is currently limited to one lane. Traffic signals allow drivers in each direction to take turns traveling through the affected section.
"The objective now is stabilizing that area and repairing damage that's happened. Repairing the damage is going to take some time," perhaps several months into the summer to develop and construct a permanent fix, Gleason said.
"The contractor came in and helped alleviate the pressure on that slope," including knocking down portions that appeared likely to give way soon, Gleason said. Contractors also paved an additional area next to the canyon wall to allow some extra space for cars to travel away from the edge of the slide.
"So they are able to keep one lane of traffic open with a safe buffer zone there," he said.
"The hope is we will be able to get two lanes open in a month to six weeks," Gleason said. "They will be working on a permanent solution over the next several weeks."
Gleason said delays through the area currently have been for only three to five minutes, but that is expected to lengthen once tourist season begins.
He noted that towns along that highway depend heavily on tourism, "So it's critical for us if we can keep at least one lane open."
He said the landslide area is under constant observation, and could close if more danger is detected.
"If it's a situation we feel is changing, or we feel is unsafe, we will shut it down," he said.