Political Turmoil Regarding U.S. 6 Explodes in 1919
The political turmoil over the route Carbon residents know as U.S. Highway 6 is not only a product of recent times, but something that has been stewing in the proverbial pot for many years.
Starting out as a trail and then becoming a road next to the railroad tracks in the 1800s, the highway has been a sticking point in some way or another. For instance, in August 1919, a debate erupted with the state road commission, upstate politicians and the Utah Automobile Association (UAA).
A man named H.J. Hawley was traveling through Salt Lake with his son and stopped at the UAA to inquire about the best road to Denver, Colo. The clerk gave the man a map with the route lined in red. The line traveled through Provo, up Spanish Fork Canyon and down Price Canyon to Castle Gate. It routed up Indian Canyon, through Duchesne and Vernal to Denver.
Like today, a good part of the economy of the time in the Carbon County area was from people passing through on trains and by motor vehicle.
Hawley had once lived in Salt Lake and done business in Price. He questioned the clerk, knowing the route through Price was shorter. But the clerk told Hawley that the road through Price to Green River had become impassible and he was better off taking the other route.
Hawley had business friends in Price and stopped into town to talk with them. He told them about the advice. To many people in Castle Valley, it was a slap in the face.
A meeting was called for all residents of the area, particularly the business people, the next week. It was proposed that the community boycott buying anything from Salt Lake until the upstaters amend their evil ways.
A Mr. Foster of the UAA denied that his office was giving out such information. But Hawley had the outlined UAA map and had sworn an affidavit as to the validity of the story.
A letter was sent to the UAA, the Utah road commissioner and various politicians about the matter, obviously taking it beyond the quasi-private agency that had supplied the information. Many residents saw it as another attempt to cut off the political island that they perceived Carbon County to be - despite the fact that a Democratic governor, Simon Bamberger, was in the statehouse.
The News Advocate was inflammatory about the situation; in fact, the paper may have caused much of the flap at the time. During a three-week period, the paper wrote news stories that were half editorials blasting state government, knocking Bamberger and referring to various political figures and the road commissioner as "nincompoops." The paper claimed t the governor was trying to siphon money off some parts of the state to the areas where he had financial interests, just as Gov. William Spry (1909-1917) had done years before.
Republicans in the county lambasted the governor at the meeting and Democrats, including Price MayorGeorge Wootton, roasted the administration as "crooked double crossers."
The following statement was issued.
"For many years the eastern section of Utah has paid to the state highway commission vast sums of money from taxation, for the purpose of building and maintaining state highways and that all we have ever received in return has been empty promises and pre-election assurances that we would receive our just proposition of the money that we have poured into their treasury ..."
But that was just about the end of it. The UAA denied it would ever route traffic away from the Midland Trail (the road through Carbon and Emery counties) and state politicians denied having anything to do with the situation. The road commission claimed it was doing all it could with the money it had. Carbon and Emery County people outwardly got over it and never boycotted the Wasatch Front business community.
Sound familiar? Many similar words have been repeatedly voiced during the years about various issues concerning the road that stretches from Spanish Fork to Green River.
The road was not impassible in 1919. But there are times when it seems it is, or at least not passable safely even today.
One section Carbon County residents consider the most dangerous is the stretch from Soldiers Summit to Price.
Yet the statistics do not bear out this belief. Many more deaths are registered on other parts of the highway, but because this section is foremost in Castle Valley residents minds, driving the "canyon" as it is called by locals is considered the worst part of the road by many.
Drivers passing Soldiers Summit east and southbound often have a bad surprise in the winter months. At Tucker the sky may be blue as a saphire, but at the Summit a raging snow storm may be going on; a snow storm often consisting of ground blizzards whipped up by the high altitude winds that blow the summit. Yet few accidents have occurred right there or within a short distance from there. An accident just east of the summit near milepost 211 took some lives in 1997.
This stretch of road as it travels across the flats and toward the crossing of the White River has gained a reputation for bad passes and sleepy drivers crossing over the line. Between 1996 and 2000 five accidents on that flat before the Junction with SR 96 to Scofield claimed a number of lives. One particularly bad stretch was just west of the junction and was a place where poor passing judgement had killed many and injured over a dozen. Since that stretch has been widened to a four lane for overa mile, fatal accidents in that area have literally vanished.
Up the road just east of Colton is a hill that stretches down into the next set of flats that ends near the Emma Park Road.
Everyone who has driven the "canyon" regularly on any kind of basis has a story of a near collision on this hill. The road descends quickly and the vision to see is excellent across the flats. Frustrated or anxious drivers will often take advantage of the inside passing lane in the westbound lanes to pass slower traffic. Some have little regard for cars coming from the east or what lane they are in. A few never completed the pass as they have had head ons or glancing blows with other vehicles. During the five year period two fatal accidents occurred on that hill, but many more injury accidents have taken place there as well.
The following flats provide a high speed race park for some drivers as they speed to get around slower vehicles. Motorists are worried about being behind a slow vehicle going down Price Canyon. Yet no fatalities were reported during the 1996-2000 period on that stretch of road. Again many injury accidents, but no deaths.
Once past the Emma Park Turnoff, the road rises slightly and then descends into Price Canyon as it crosses the Carbon County line. It is also the start of a three lane road that goes for almost five miles. In that five miles, as the grade drops more quickly, large trucks and recreational vehicles often travel at slower speeds to keep from getting out of control on the sharp curves. That creates long lines of cars descending into the Price Valley, and also causes many drivers to loose patience. The speed limit is 55-60, yet many drivers on this stretch seem to want to turn it into the Price Canyon Grand Prix.
Passing when other vehicles are driving in the inside lane westbound seems to be common practice. The long lines of cars make for "point runners," drivers who pass point to point, rather than car to car. Some speed down a line of 20 vehicles to get ahead of them and then end up just in front of the same row as they reach the crossroads in Helper.
Yet surprisingly, as many close calls as there are in these miles of three lane and the accompanying two lane road closer to the bottom of the canyon, only two fatals took place in the canyon during the five year stretch from 1996-2000. However, in 2001, based on unofficial statistics at least three people were killed in auto collisions from the top of the canyon to the port of entry.
The Helper intersection has been the site of some ugly accidents over the years, yet in the time period in question, not one death took place there.
The four lane highway opens up from there, divided by large blacktop area and then after the golf course it becomes a barrow pit. Only one fatal happened on that highway during the five year span, at mile post 240, just inside the Price City limits.
The death toll on this section of highway, from the summit to Price has always seemed higher than it actually is. But there is justification for that; more often than not those fatalities are local people and even one is way too many.