State officials are working to curb closures on Interstate 10 in southeast Arizona by asking an adjacent property owner to cut down on dust.
Officials from the Arizona Department of Transportation and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality met with agents of the landowner, David R. Turner, whose property borders the highway near the New Mexico state line, The Arizona Daily Star reported. They came up with a plan to water the site in hopes of reducing airborne dust.
Timothy Franquist, deputy director of the Air Quality Division at the state environmental agency, said inspectors had the authority to take "enforcement actions" against the landowner, but decided a voluntary solution would be better.
Turner did not return a request for comment.
The 160-acre patch of cleared land along the highway near San Simon in Cochise County will be watered in hopes of forming a soil crust that will keep dust from being blown up onto the highway, where it can reduce drivers' visibility.
Caroline Oppleman, spokeswoman for the environmental agency, said Turner has a well on land next to the cleared plot that will fill the five tanker trucks that began the watering operation on Thursday. Turner has been advised to plant a crop or other cover vegetation in the area as soon as possible to help with dust control, she said.
Despite beginning Thursday, I-10 was closed Thursday night and Friday morning because of blowing dust. The highway has closed six times for crashes or as a precaution since April 7.
A truck driver who was critically injured in an April 25 crash caused by dust is still in the hospital but improving, said Trooper Kameron Lee, a Department of Public Safety spokesman. No one was killed in any of the crashes.
The state transportation department reduced the speed limit along the stretch of highway midway between San Simon and Bowie to 45 mph, raising it to 65 mph during noncritical times. Officials said they are committed to closing the highway when wind and dust start blowing.
If the highway closes, motorists are forced to take a 110-mile detour to Safford on U.S. 191 and back to Lordsburg, New Mexico, on U.S. 70.