For many local residents, the exit to U.S. Highway 6 from Interstate 15 in Spanish Fork is the beginning of the road motorists dread to travel to return to Carbon County from the Wasatch Front.
But the exit doesn't describe the way the road used to be before the freeway was put through that section of Utah County in the early 1960s. The road known as U.S .6 in the past took a different route for drivers heading west and south.
In the pre-freeway era, people didn't go west the Moark Junction of U.S. 89 and U.S. 6 to get to Provo or Salt Lake. Instead, travelers swung north on 89 through a then small Mapleton and rural Springville to reach points north.
In the past, U.S. 6 took a westernly swing through the towns in southern Utah County and served as the cities' main streets for many years. The road still exists as State Highway 198.
The drive north and east on the old highway from Santaquin in many ways is a trip back in time. At present, Highway 6 serves as the main drag through Santaquin as one heads east from the western boundaries of town.
In the middle of Santaquin's Main Street is mile marker number 160 from which one can begin the journey toward Price and Green River. About three-quarters of a mile east, I-15 passes over the road. Directional signs tell drivers to head north on the freeway and exit onto the new U.S. 6 to Price about 20 miles up the expressway.
The old highway turns north after the freeway entrance and mile marker 161 appears - a throwback to the days when the road was the main route toward eastern Utah. Then a sign shows up on the side designating the road as State Highway 198.
As the Utah Department of Transportation has recorded accidents and fatalities, the agency has kept the road markers tied to the old U.S. 6 despite its present designation as SR-198.
The fact is important because the highway running within the city limits of Payson and Salem is one of the deadliest sections of the road.
While that section of highway may not be a main throughway for traffic to the eastern part of the state, it serves as a main road for commuters who travel from sub-divisions in southern Utah County to jobs in the small towns along the way. That adds up to not only congestion at times, but higher speeds by drivers using the road as an alternative to I-15.
Leaving the city of Santaquin, motorists pass through agricultural fields and orchards, broken here that there by few houses and sub-divisions. It is at that point where a fatal occurred in 1999.
A little more than a mile up the road, just before crossing the south Payson city limits, two additional fatalities occurred the same year. The road is pretty much straight all that way until it enters the city limits of Payson and then it curves a little.
The road that is generally headed north, then makes a 45 degree turn to the east in downtown Payson where smart little stores dot the one way streets that make up that cities shopping district.
It is from here and into the city limits of Salem, mile posts 166 through 169 that many fatal accidents occurred from 1997-2000. Driving through that section of the highway it would seem an unlikely place for that type of carnage, but none the less it has happened over the years.
After passing in a northeasterly direction through Salem the road travels a short distance in the county and then enters the Spanish Fork area where it turns into a four lane road that becomes Spanish Fork's Main Street. Just a little way into the city limit on a slight curve another accident fatal accident occurred in 1999.
The road then straightens out and heads directly north through Spanish Forks business section until it reaches Center Street, at the north end of town. The road then turns up Center Street toward the east, then it curves again as it heads toward joining with todays version of US 6. Near mile post 174 another fatal occurred in 1997.
The road then joins with the "new" Highway 6 at the top of the hill coming out of Spanish Fork, better known to Carbon residents as "the first stop light after coming out of the canyon."
This section of road that heads southeast toward the mouth of the canyon has been deadly over the years, hence the large project that was completed about a year ago to widen it from two lanes all the way from the "Little Acorn" to I-15. Two accidents on that stretch in 1998 and 2000 took several lives. Those statistics were not in the record books yet when UDOT decided on the project and did the studies to put the new four lane in place beginning in 1995. Every road improvement that the agency makes that costs over a million dollars is put on a five year program which includes preliminary studies, environmental impact studies, engineering, public hearings, approval, final design and then construction. It is a long process often brought about by the observation of UDOT officials that see trends on sections of highways that need correction.
The old two lane road that existed where the new four lane does now was a problem largely because it was designed for much lower traffic levels than that route faces today. It was also a place where many people took chances passing other vehicles after coming down the canyon behind a slow moving truck or heading toward the canyon and hoping to pass a slow moving motor home headed east before it reached the incline in the mountain pass.
The road then passes Moark Junction where US 89 splits off and the old route to Salt Lake still exists in reality and in peoples memories.
That is where the Utah Valley segment of US 6 ends with 14 fatal accidents behind it during the time period reported. Interestingly, if one includes the highway up to just past Thistle Junction going east in this grouping, and it is all in Utah County, statistic show that 50 percent of the fatal accidents on US 6 in Utah occurs in this 28 mile section of a 180 mile long road.