Explosion puts exclamation point on Highway 6 dangers
Once again U.S. Highway 6 was one of the main topics of discussion during 2005.
Accidents involving everything from an exploding semi-trailer to a tractor-trailer rig head-on collision brought the danger of the highway back to the headlines, and local activists reacted strongly about their desires to see the road become a divided highway the entire length from Spanish Fork to Green River.
On Aug. 10 traffic along U.S. Highway 6 came to an abrupt stop at 1:54 p.m. when a truck carrying 35,000 pounds of explosives overturned and detonated in the Red Narrows area of Spanish Fork Canyon. Despite the fact that this event did not take place in Carbon County the implications of the accident were immediate. Since the explosion left a crater in the road 35 feet deep and 75 feet wide, truck stops in Carbon County began to back up with vehicles almost immediately. Alternative routes through Scofield, Huntington Canyon and Indian Canyon became congested.
The blast destroyed the road and both lanes of traffic of the highway near milepost 191, located approximately four miles east of the junction with U.S. Highway 89. In addition, the explosion caused rail lines parallel to the highway to shift.
The truck that exploded apparently left Ensign-Bickford Company at the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon at 1:10 p.m. and was on its way to Oklahoma, according to officials. The driver, a 30-year-old male, was transported to University of Utah Hospital. Other injuries were reported and victims were transported to various hospitals in the area. Amazingly no one was killed in the blast despite the fact the canyon was backed up with summer vacation traffic after the truck turned over.
Six victims with minor injuries were taken to Castleview Hospital and later released.
Drivers near the explosion described a shock wave that blew out windows in their cars. The truck carrying the explosives was completely destroyed and the blast scattered hot and burning metal all over the hills around the scene. A bomb squad found unexploded ordinance among the debris. That delayed road crews and fire crews from beginning their work. The debris from the explosion caused approximately 30 small fires in the area.
Emergency crews from Uinta National Forest worked through the weekend to extinguish the fires. The fires were reported to be controlled and contained on Monday.
Repairing the road took about 350 loads carrying 4,500 tons of material and about 36 total hours. Repairing the road had originally been estimated to take as long as four days. However, as Utah Department of Transportation called in 25 maintenance workers from all over Utah County to do the hauling, that time line was cut in half. The repair required the rebuilding of approximately 200 feet of road.
As a result of the explosion, Highway 6 was closed from Thistle to the junction with U.S. Highway 191 near Helper. Traffic was detoured either north from Helper to Duchesne and U.S. Highway 40 or south from Thistle to Fairview along Highway 89 and then over Fairview and Huntington canyons on Utah Highway 31.
While no one was killed in the explosion, others were not so fortunate on the road during the year, in fact by the end of December 2005, the number of people who have died on the road was the highest in eight years.
During the year a number of events connected to the future construction of the road took place too. The environmental impact statement that the Utah Department of Transportation has been working on was finalized and UDOT officials say they are close to starting up operations to complete a four lane highway all the way when they get the funding to do so.
In addition, the highway overpass on Main Street in Helper continued to be an issue. While the overpass project is not dead, it is being evaluated because the costs on it continue to escalate. Over the past two years UDOT has taken bids for the overpass twice and despite some adjustments to the projects parameters, both times all bids came in well in excess of what UDOT engineers estimated the costs would be.
It is apparent that the highway, that Readers Digest named one of the most dangerous roads in the United States a few years ago, will continue to draw attention and controversy over the next few years as well.