The smoke appears to have cleared and the answer behind the haze lies at the foot of a standard diamond interchange which will be constructed on U.S. Highway 6 at Helper.
After years of discussion regarding an interchange at the intersection of U.S. 6 and Helper Main Street, a conclusion has been reached. The conclusion, however, has disappointed some people, yet other citizens are pleased with the decision.
Public meetings, along with hearings involving government officials, have been conducted with Utah Department of Transportation leaders to resolve the traffic problem at the busy intersection.
Suggestions of stop lights and overpasses have filled the air as residents and transportation officials alike worked to provide Helper with a better intersection.
Concerns have risen over the course of the past several years. Some of the concerns include the negative impact that Helper businesses may experience due to the construction of an interchange.
Residents and business owners have surmised that a stop light may benefit Helper more than an interchange. The supporters feel that a light would provide added business and an interchange may decrease sales and impact the local economy.
UDOT, along with interchange supporters, disagree. An interchange is viewed as allowing access to Helper citizens easily to and from east and west of the city, while providing motorists with a safe route across U.S. Highway 6.
Input from the stop light supporters and interchange activists has been reviewed by UDOT. Statistics from areas similar to Helper such as Spanish Fork has been studied and UDOT's conclusion is that an interchange is safer as well as more effective than a traffic light.
UDOT not only reached the conclusion through studies, but also from public input from Helper residents along with city and county governments.
The final decision to build an interchange has been reached. The interchange will be constructed as a gateway to downtown Helper.
The structure will provide direct access to and from U.S. Highway 6 at north Main Street. It will, however, prohibit direct access to and from the highwayat north Main and Martin Road.
Along with the interchange, UDOT plans to further provide Helper with a gateway to the city by placing welcome and service signs. The signs will serve as a mini-advertisement for businesses in the Helper area by informing motorists of what services are located at the city exit.
UDOT feels that the signs will help local businesses gain customers which may be lost by motorists who do not know what is offered in the area prior to entering the interchange.
The signs are viewed by some residents as being helpful to the city's business community.
"An interchange with service signs will help businesses benefit better than stop lights would. This section of Highway 6 will be safer and more user friendly with the installation of the interchange," indicated port of entry supervisor Dennis Karren.
Helper Mayor Joe Bonacci supports the interchange and the service signs.
"The council will be negotiating with UDOT to allow the service signs installed at no cost to the businesses displayed on the sign because of the negative impact that the interchange may have on these business owners," explained Bonacci.
Although not all residents are pleased with the decision to move on with construction of an interchange, most citizens agree that UDOT is giving its best effort to accommodate to the people who may be affected by the highway improvement.
The biggest step taken thus far is UDOT agreeing to make Helper more accessible through a gateway project, complete with signs.
Helper City Council representative Jim Robinson feels that the project will benefit the entire city.
"An interchange is a wonderful idea. It will save lives and bond the city together," pointed out the Helper councilman.
"Although the businesses may feel a negative impact at first, I feel that in the long run it will have a positive impact and help our economy. UDOT has partnered with the local government and has made this decision based on public and government input in a friendly manner," continued Robinson.
The business that will most be affected by the state transportation department's interchange decision will be Fossats Drive In.
Construction plans for the highway improvement project include the demolition of the Helper eatery.
Drive in owner Ralph Fossat realizes that the end of his business is nearing, however Fossat feels that the interchange will benefit the Helper community.
"We have been battling with the idea of making improvements to this intersection since 1983. The public has jumped in late in the game and does not understand the logic behind the interchange," pointed out the Helper businessman.
"Instead, the public wants a stop light. A light won't work because of the visibility factors. I am glad that the decision of an interchange has been made and I feel Helper will benefit from the change," explained Fossat.
"I'm not sure if I'll rebuild or open again. At this point, I have not made that decision," continued Fossat.
The demolition of the well-known drive in will affect only one business, yet will provide safety to all motorists who enter the Helper area.
Even though Fossat is pleased with the decision to build the interchange, not all business owners feel the same way.
"The interchange will do nothing but hurt local businesses. Every business owner in the area will be effected in a negative way," voiced Helper Auto owner Bob Farrell.
Supporters of the stop light are beginning to adjust to the decision of an interchange being built.
Some citizens have expressed the opinion that a light would not resolve safety problems in the future.
"A light is a short term solution. An interchange will be effective on a long term basis," expressed Fossat.
Most of the traffic control device supporters backed the idea of installing lights because they felt that motorists stopped at a light would increase business for local stores.
UDOT has researched the idea extensively and the state agency has concluded that a stop light would not be effective in the future.
"We have reached our decision based on our three main concerns," explained UDOT public involvement coordinator Myron Lee.
"Our first concern is safety, followed by providing a transportation corridor which will be an asset to the Helper community. We want to build a structure that will provide motorists with maximum safety, yet make a structure that Helper residents will be proud of. Finally, we do not want to impact areas that are already established. We will do the best we can to avoid disturbing the natural built environments that are now in place," pointed out Lee.
UDOT plans to further provide residents with a structure which is viewed by the community with pride by allowing citizens to voice their ideas regarding the design of the structure's landscaping.
The new interchange will require retaining walls, which UDOT hopes to get the community involved in planning its design.
The retaining walls will be similar to the structures located across Interstate 15 in northern Utah. The walls in place along I-15 display various pictures etched in the concrete of Olympic symbols.
The interchange in Helper will be no different.
Residents will be able to voice their opinions about the design that shall adorn the retaining walls for years to come.
"I trust that UDOT officials will listen to the public's input just as they have thus far. I think it is a great idea to allow residents to design the landscaping for the high-rise structure that will stand in the middle of town. I also feel that UDOT will stand by their word to repair the Parkway that may be affected. I just hope that the parkway is not destroyed entirely by construction," pointed out the new mayor of Helper city.
The Price River Parkway may become subject to repairs during the construction of the interchange.
UDOT has vowed, however, that replacement of the portions of the parkway affected by the highway improvement project will be replaced by the time construction is completed.
Formal plans have not yet been drawn up regarding the new interchange, but are in the process of being made.
Along with construction plans, cost and time is also being determined.
UDOT plans to open bidding up in the fall which will allow construction crews to give estimates to UDOT who will decide which company will best serve the interchange's construction.
After the bidding has closed, construction will begin. But the construction may not start until one year after the initial bid has been submitted.
As Utah Department of Transportation proceeds with the process of developing the plans for construction, residents wait in anticipation for the outcome of the lengthy procedure.
"Between the two alternatives given, I feel that UDOT has decided upon the plan that will best benefit Helper," indicated Mayor Bonacci. "I think the interchange will have less of a negative impact on the downtown businesses than the second interchange plan that has been discussed."
"I understand that there will be a period of construction woes, but it can't last forever. I am confident that UDOT will do what is best for Helper. Traffic is a science and a safety issue that citizens must trust UDOT to construct in a manner that will provide motorists with the safest conditions possible," concluded Bonacci.