An open house at the College of Eastern Utah last Wednesday evening ended one phase of a major improvement era on US 6 and moved it into another phase.
"With the safety study on the highway now complete, we are beginning the environmental impact study," said Myron Lee, Utah Department of Transportation Region 4 public relations officer. "Luckily a lot of what we did in the safety study pertains to the EIS as well."
The open house was held in the Student Center and over 30 people showed up to look at the placards set up there, obtain materials about the proposed study and talk with the half dozen UDOT and engineering firm officials that were there.
"These kinds of studies usually take a couple of years, but we are going to try to cram this one into about 18 months," said Bob Jacobs an engineering consultant on the project.
The safety study, which was released about a month ago, came to the conclusion that the best way to achieve optimal safety on the highways span between Green River on Interstate 70 and Interstate 15 in Spanish Fork is to construct a four lane divided highway between the two points. That is an improvement that many local residents have been clamoring for for years, but until recently it wasn't considered a necessary option.
The get together highlighted what would go on during the EIS and what would need to be done to finish it. Highlighted were such subjects as the results of the safety study, the potential environmental issues that may be involved in changing the highway, some preliminary alternatives and how improvements will continue.
"Obviously, even after this study is over it will take years to reach the goal that the safety study has set forth," said Lee. "It will happen as money becomes available."
The estimated total cost for such a project is over a half billion dollars in todays money. To lay a mile of single lane road in a non-mountainous area with few obstructions, it costs a bit over $600,000 per mile. Through tough areas it can be a million dollars or more. Obviously, a large portion of the road that is not already at four lanes is through the toughest type of territory, such as in the Red Narrows in Spanish Fork Canyon.
During the environmental process, areas that will be studied include such items as business and home relocations, historic and cultural sites, wildlife habitat and possible wet land areas, threatened and endangered species or plant life, any hazardous waste sites that might be affected, water quality issues, noise and air quality concerns as well as traffic growth projections and others.
As for alternatives to the changes, there are a few. First, of course is to do nothing except what is required to keep the road legal and to keep up the maintenance. Another alternative is to restrict certain types of vehicles, such as large trucks. That however could affect the local economy negatively. Another possibility is to put together a mass transit or heavy rail system from eastern Utah communities to the Wasatch Front. And finally there is the improvement of the road based on the safety studies recommendations.
"To come up with the ideas we need to make it better we must meet will all kinds of groups and get their input," stated Lee. "This is the first of those meetings."
Lee said that UDOT officials will be having many more meetings on the whole project including getting together with many special interest groups such as business and industry and transportation organizations such as trucking groups.
But the EIS will not hold up the improvements already scheduled to begin next hear including the new interchange in Helper, the Price-Wellington project in which the agency intends to widen that section of road from two to five lanes, new passing lanes near Soldiers Summit and at least on bridge rehabilitation.
"This meeting is not the only place people can register comments," said Jacobs. "They can go to the UDOT website (www.udot.utah.gov/us6) and see all the information we have here tonight and register to make comment there."
Written forms for making comments on the study can also be obtained by contacting UDOT at (801) 281 8892.
The comment period for the scoping section of the study runs into January of 2003.