Gila County explores ways to reopen Russell Road
A sign on the right tells drivers that the road will end in just over a mile – and so it does, with graffiti-decked concrete barriers stretching across it. This is Russell Road, which runs from Globe-Miami to the Pinal Mountains.
Beyond the barriers a badly damaged two-mile section of the road remains closed today, two years after the post-Telegraph Fire flooding that washed away shoulders and 20-foot support banks. In August 2021, monsoon-driven floods from the fire’s burn scar washed the road out in several spots.
For the last 50 years Gila County has maintained Russell Road, which when open provided access to the Pinal Mountain Recreational Area. In addition, the road gave residents of the Six Shooter, Ice House and Kellner Canyon areas another route to services if something should happen to the roads leading to their homes. The road’s current closure requires a 10-mile detour through subdivisions around Globe. Russell Road, which the county either owns or has easements for, passes through private and national forest land.
Rebuilding that two-mile stretch, according to County Public Works Director Homero Vela, could take an estimated $16.5 million including design costs. There could also be the cost of environmental studies if the roadwork affected additional Forest Service areas or impacted U.S. waters. “The reason for the high cost is that Russell Gulch meandered onto the road area and washed away 20-foot banks that previously supported the roadway,” said Vela. “Mitigation actions will require support walls that withstand the stream’s erosive forces.” Vela added that his department has pursued, and continues to pursue, grant funding to make those actions happen.
Public Works, Vela said, has looked at various road repair alternatives, such as rebuilding at the current alignment or moving into hillsides, as well as considering alternate routes. “All of these are costly because they have to account for the size of the repair and a meandering stream.”