U.S. 6 Lifeline is Tenuous and Fragile
It's something we cuss and complain about. Many of us often hate to use it and when we do, some of us have near death experiences upon it. We have maligned it, and realigned it. We have spent countless hours, and almost as many dollars trying to improve it. Some think it is much better than it used to be, others aren't so sure. But we all know one thing. When for some reason, the U.S. Highway 6 corridor to the Wasatch Front gets cut or stopped up, it affects everyone who lives here.
That was proven last week when a truck rolled over on the sharpest curve in the Red Narrows in Spanish Fork Canyon, caught fire and then the explosives it was carrying went off wiping out the road for almost 200 feet and taking out the rail lines next to it for good measure.
Over the years there have been minor and major stoppages in one place or another on the highway that have adversely affected Carbon County. Often traffic accidents or snow storms have temporilly closed the canyon for a few hours. On the other hand, on two occassions events have transpired that closed the canyons passage for weeks and in one case for months.
The first was in 1917 when the Mammoth Dam, a stoppage in Fish Creek to provide year round water for Carbon County collapsed one Sunday evening and sent billions of gallons of water pouring down the creek and into the Price River taking out the small road that existed as well as the then most important lifeline to the area, the Rio Grande Railroad tracks. Without a Scofield Dam to hold the water back (the present dams predecessor wouldn't be built for another 10 years) the water ripped through Castle Gate, Helper and Price causing damage all the way to the Green River. While the road was repaired in only a matter of a couple of weeks, the railroad line took much longer. At the time that was the way many Carbon residents got to Salt Lake and many of the supplies for the area came that route too. Coal shipments west also stopped, and with thousands of families making their living in the area through coal production that affected the economy of the county in a very negative way.
But when many people heard about the explosion last week, it conjured up thoughts of the Billies Mountain slide of 1983. A particularly wet winter and spring created a huge slide that moved as much as a couple of feet a day and as the unstoppable earth crossed the railroad tracks, dammed up the Spanish Fork River, flooding the now non-existent town of Thistle, it also took out the road as well. Highway 6, which then ran in the bottom of the canyon, was rerouted to the side of the mountain where it is located today. That event took months to cure as the railroad had to drill a tunnel through the mountain and the Utah Department of Transportation had to build a new highway so people could travel the most direct route to eastern and southeastern Utah.
So last weeks events sunk in deeply to those that know the history of transportation stoppages in the Spanish Fork to Price transit route. I was in Salt Lake with my wife when we got a phone call about the explosion from some friends in Price. When we were able to get to a television, my first reaction was to be concerned about the people involved directly in the explosion. Then as I thought, I looked at that crater that was being viewed from the air by a news helicopter and wondered how long, once again, it would be before things could get back to normal. I thought of the two hours added to every round trip to Salt Lake that people in Carbon County would have to take by going over Indian Canyon. I thought of the congestion that would occur there, particularly with big trucks going from the south up that steep grade before the summit is reached. I saw the rail lines and wondered how the incident would disrupt the coal industry in the area.
I also considered what this would do to tourism in the area. Word would get out that the Duchesne/Carbon route was not a very good way to travel to Salt Lake or to Denver for awhile and the traffic would stop. Local restaurants, motels and gas stations would surely feel the affect. And it didn't help that the televisions stations were telling people the best route to get to southeastern Utah during the disruption was to go to Nephi and take the road through Fairview Canyon and over through Huntington. It wasn't until the next morning that they began to suggest Indian Canyon as an alternate route.
Coming home over Indian/Willow Creek Canyon the next morning the traffic approaching me from the south in Indian Canyon was heavy. Since I was traveling toward the south it was hard for me to tell just how it was going toward Price. It seemed more, but I wasn't sure. It took us three hours to come from the central Salt Lake valley to Carbon County. Generally it is less than two.
When we got home, I began to call around to some people and it seemed, like a bottle put in a stopper, that the canyon blockage had already begun to affect service businesses in the area. While tourist traffic hadn't shut off from the south completely, it had pretty much gone away from the north.
It just goes to show how tenous and dependent our lives are on that little black strip of asphalt that travels the canyon. And as I write this, cars, trucks and trains are again rolling up and down the canyon as if nothing happened last Wednesday. That's because of a dedicated and heroic effort of UDOT management and employees to get the road open as soon as possible again. It also demonstrates how important UDOTs plans to straighten the road through Red Narrows and to create a mostly four lane highway from Utah County is to us.
We may cuss it and complain about it, and we may not always love to travel on it. But that blip in service last week brought everyone down to earth, once again.
It proved to us how important that road is to everyone who lives here.