Defense, Tourism Influence U.S. 6 Development
|An abandoned stretch of the original Highway 6-50 still shows the road's colors, managing to survive the ravages of time and the vegetation that has broken through the scarred pavement. In some places, the new highway usurped the path of the old road. But in may other locations, remnants of the old highway remain, including pipes that hang out of cliffs from drainage systems, fills in side canyons and pavement that leads to no destination point.|
Three years after the initial official start of the U.S. Highway 6 project, a dynamite blast in Price Canyon signalled the beginning of the end for the old road that had evolved from a deer path to a major thoroughfare in only 50 years.
The date was Oct. 29, 1964 and the explosion that could be heard down the canyon signified a new beginning for a maligned road that had the reputation for killing motorists.
Only a couple of months before the blast, the construction of a detour route, currently known in Carbon County as Emma Park Road, as well as some work on the Willow Creek Canyon route was completed to accommodate increased traffic.
The traffic would have to be detoured to the new route while construction work took place in the Price Canyon portion of the existing highway.
The construction on the detour had taken more than a year to complete at a cost of almost one-half a million dollars, a significant sum in the early 1960s.
The reconstruction of the Price Canyon segment of Highway 6 (known as 50-6 at the time) was more than just a move to placate eastern Utah residents who had to deal with the winding and dangerous canyon road.
The improvement effort was as much a move toward modernization of a route that state and federal officials knew would become important in tying two segments of the national defense highway system, as the interstates had been called in the 1950s.
The canyon highway construction project was also viewed as an important step in effectively handling the upcoming tourism boom that the officials were certain would happen in the southeastern Utah area.
When President Dwight Eisenhower worked with the United States Congress to plan and appropriate money for the interstate system in the early 1950s, the main declared purpose of new system was to provide rapid transportation alternatives for the military in case of an invasion by another country or an atomic war.
During the 1950s, the primary threat to the United States was deemed to be communism in general and, in particular, the Soviet Union and China.
At the beginning of World War II, federal officials were scared when they realized that, once the Pacific Fleet had been wiped out in Hawaii, there was little defense on the west coast of the mainland.
The war department also realized that getting American troops and large equipment to the locations to defend the coast would have been almost impossible before the Japanese military had progressed well inland.
Some experts have estimated that the Japanese could have penetrated as far as Chicago, Ill., before the U.S. government could have mustered enough military strength to stop the invaders.
In the days before heavy lift aircraft, the interstate highway system was a must as far as America's military leaders were concerned.
But the other reason for the highway construction involved the boom of the post war economy.
Americans were moving from having no car in their garages to having two and three vehicles per household. And people wanted to travel.
Leaders believed that, when Interstate 15 was completed and when I-70 was finished, Highway 6 would become a major link as a shortcut from the southern route that presently cuts through the San Rafael Swell to the interstate that runs along the Wasatch Front.
Work on I-15 was not completed until 1964, followed by I-70 in the early 1970s.
Officials at the time also spoke of the "Golden Circle" opening up. The Golden Circle was and still is a grouping of tourist attractions in the four corners area of the west.
Civic leaders and tourism officials could envision Utah's Canyonlands areas booming with visitors. Other improvement project proponents saw the highways connecting national parks in a continuous tour that would attract Americans and foreigners who would bring money to spend in rural economies.
Highway 6 was considered one of the main routes for the idea - a "Yellowstone to Canyon-lands" type of road that would lead people from one national park to another.
The canyon roadway was to be reconstructed in two sections. One segment was the actual canyon section from New Peerless to Kyune Pass or Emma Park Road. The second portion involved the straighter section from Kyune Pass to Colton.
While a number of companies submitted bids on both sections, 12 contractors went for the canyon and seven for the other section.
H.E. Loudermilk Company was the successful bidder on both sections.
Based in Englewood, Colo., Loudermilk bid $2,185,174.70 on completing the canyon section of the project. The company bid more than $2 million less than the state engineer estimated that it would cost to rebuild the canyon portion of the road.
The Colorado construction company also won the bid on the second segment of the improvement project, with a cost of less than $2 million.
The actual ceremony to start construction was attended by 100 people.
The Carbon High School band performed and the detonator that set off the explosion was pushed by Miss Carbon County, Ruth Rasmussen.
The program was sponsored by the Utah Department of Highways and Carbon County Chamber of Commerce.
Speakers at the ceremony and the luncheon that followed included Steve Diamanti, local chair of the Highway 50 Federation; Gerald Oviatt, the chair of the county commission; William Welsh Jr., mayor of Price; and Gomer Peacock, a representative from the chamber.
In 1964, the road traveling up Willow Creek Canyon was known as U-33. The connection between U-33 and Highway 6 had not been sufficiently completed to accommodate the traffic the alternate route was expected to handle at the time in question.
State and local officials expected the closure of Highway 6 to occur by about the middle of October 1964.
But for various reasons and several unanticipated delays, the canyon did not close until almost Dec. 1.
Officials anticipated that the canyon road would take 275 working days to complete.
Meanwhile, a project that was improving the road in Indian Canyon shut down for the winter months, complicating the situation for traffic that decided to go to U.S. 40 to get to the Wasatch Front.
The past record of the project for the canyon had proved to be full of delays.
The original canyon highway improvement project, contemplated by officials since the mid-1950s and initially planned for completion before 1962, had encountered delays continually due to various circumstances.
Few local leaders, members of the business community and Carbon County residents expected less from the actual highway project.
However, what probably became the largest surprise of the 1960s for people in eastern Utah was the fact that the U.S. Highway improvement project would be finished not in 1967 or 1968 as anticipated, but in the summer of 1966.