UDOT Defends Plan at Helper Meeting
|Mike Miles, UDOT project engineer|
The Helper overpass project seems cut, dried and ready to be put to bed. But people attending the Helper City Council meeting Dec. 18 may have had doubts regarding the status of the U.S. Highway 6 project.
The council meeting was a place where the Utah Department of Transportation and the state agency's engineers intended to answer some questions about the road improvements planned for the entire U.S. 6 corridor.
But the heart of the discussion at the Helper meeting concerned the overpass project slated for construction next spring.
The meeting room at the Helper auditorium was packed with people wanting to learn what was going on or residents who wanted to comment on the project.
A presentation by Bob Jacobs of Stanley Consultants showed various aspects of the entire corridor and what would be going on within the area next year in Carbon County.
Following the presentation, UDOT supervising engineer for U.S. 6 in Utah Mike Miles answered questions about the state transportation agency's plans.
The UDOT engineer was immediately quizzed by residents who oppose the overpass project.
"As far as UDOT is concerned, the intersection of Highway 6 and Helper's Main Street is the largest concern we have on this section of highway," stated Miles, in connection with the road as it travels from Spanish Fork to Green River. "We want to make it as safe as possible."
Because bids submitted on the project significantly exceeded the estimates, Miles indicated the plan was being re-evaluated by two teams of experts to determine what UDOT engineers may have overlooked. "We have one firm looking at our plans that has never seen the project before so we can get an independent opinion," explained Miles. "And we also have another team of our own engineers going over it as well. But if we find the project really does cost between $16 and $20 million we still feel it needs to be done. We have studied this problem and this solution is the only way to solve the problems at that intersection for the long term."
But not all citizens of Helper were convinced.
"It seems to me that the Red Narrows area is the worst part of the highway," said Helper resident Walt Borla. "If you put a stoplight in the Helper intersection, it would solve the problem of crossing and that way most of the money could be spent on that dangerous section of road instead."
Miles never wavered, but he conceded that there were other bad situations on the highway.
"There is no doubt that the Red Narrows is a bad section of road, but for that matter so is the section in the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon from Covered Bridge Road to Moark Junction (where old U.S. 89 joins Highway 6 as it wanders toward the canyon from Springville and Mapleton)," he explained. "Those areas will require a lot of work. We have asked a lot of questions about where we would put the fill we would have to remove there to improve the road or even if we could go over the top.
"Tunneling has even been suggested. But those are such expensive projects and right now we are trying to get the most for our money on other critical areas. We will eventually get there on those projects, but for now we are working on things that are easier to solve," added the UDOT supervising engineer.
As for the stop light, Miles said that would not work in the long term explaining that if the road is made into four lanes from Spanish Fork to Green River a light would only create some very bad traffic problems in the Helper area.
Borla, however, pointed out that a stop light in the Heber area solved a similar problem. He also said the lights in Spanish Fork on U.S. 6 seem to be working quite fine. But both Miles and Jacobs disputed that those lights have actually solved things.
"All three locations that have received lights in Spanish Fork have showed increased accidents," said Jacobs. "There has been a tenfold increase at each and at the top of where Center Street joins U.S. 6, there has been a very significant number of fatalities. As for the Jordanelle light, that intersection has a two mile line of sight distance. The Helper intersection doesn't have that."
The light in Heber was not a final but a temporary resolution that was being used until something better could be implemented, pointed out Miles.
Helper Councilman Chuck Buchanan said that he could see a real problem with a light at the Helper intersection if the road were extended to four lanes, just from the pure volume of traffic.
Miles supported Buchan-an's assertion. He told the group he wanted a quality solution to the problem, not just a temporary one. However, Borla worried about what kind of structure the overpass would actually become when it was done.
"Here is part of what worries me about this," he stated. "Look at what they did when they put the bypass road in. There's the Spring Glen-Carbonville intersections where people have to cross the road to get on to the highway. And then there is the east Price interchange. If that's the type of quality we are going to get then we don't want it."
The issue of the overpass affecting business in the town was also brought up.
But Miles told the residents that the vision of UDOT was that people could cross Helper without having to go into lanes of high traffic to do so. He said the agencies vision was to have a situation with the four lanes going through the community without disrupting it.
"Just look at Moab and all the traffic that goes right through town," said Miles. "There are a lot of cars that stop at businesses there but there are some in that town that want that changed and a bypass built. All these changes affect a community, but if you talk with towns that were bypassed by the I-15 project years ago, most were affected initially, but have adapted and done well since."
The session with UDOT ended with Miles urging the community to understand that UDOT must deal with a lot of factors in evaluating, designing and building projects.
"We have to serve every-one's best interests, and that encompasses local residents, travelers and truckers," he concluded.