|Bob Jacobs, engineer|
The in-depth environmental impact study concerning U.S. Highway 6 between Spanish Fork and Green River is pulling fewer comments from the public than expected, even though the matter has been publicized in numerous Utah Department of Transportation meetings.
For years, UDOT officials have been doing piecemeal projects on the road to make the worst stretches safer and improve sections with the available money. But the agency recently decided to look at the road as one entity and large highway rehabilitation project.
In October 2002, UDOT announced the agency's intent to prepare and issue an environmental impact statement on the entire section of U.S. 6 between Spanish Fork and Interstate 70 in Emery County.
In late 2002 and early 2003, UDOT started a series of scoping meetings to allow members of the general public and officials to comment on existing conditions and UDOT's roadway improvement project.
Since fall 2003, the agency has been conducting an analysis on the impacts the proposed changes would have on the areas around U.S. 6.
In part, the process included coordinating communication about UDOT's plans for the highway at local town council meetings. During the meetings, UDOT handed out a fact and comment sheet to people in attendance.
According to the information, the state agency has divided the highway's corridor into 17 segments and identified individual projects within the sections. UDOT then prioritized the segments based on needed improvements.
While the impact study has been going on, things have not stood still on the construction front. UDOT has proceeded on various projects, including rumble strips in areas of the corridor, lane leveling in places, surface repairs in locations where needed and bridge repairs.
During 2004, there will be eight major projects on the highway and seven will be in or run into Carbon County.
The projects include:
Beginning construction of the Helper interchange.
Adding two miles of eastbound passing lanes north of Peerless port of entry.
Widening and extending the bridge at Sunnyside Junction so the coal haul trucks will not have to pull out into traffic before reaching the three-lane configuration constructed last year.
Putting in passing lanes south of Sunnyside Junction.
Adding passing lanes from Soldiers Summit in Wasatch County to Price.
Starting construction to widen U.S. 6 between Wellington and Price.
In developing the initial stages of the environmental impact analysis, UDOT and the agency's consulting engineers began with seven different scenarios on how to solve problems on the highway.
However, the list has been whittled down to two scenarios.
The first alternative would be for the road to vary from two to four lanes, depending on surrounding geography, capacity issues and impacting factors.
The second alternative, seemingly favored by the majority of citizens and many UDOT officials, is to make the road at least four lanes through the entire corridor.
According to Bob Jacobs of Stanley Consultants, the study started after the realization that the original safety report showed more problems than a few changes could impact.
"The highway does not meet current design standards in many places," he told a group of Helper citizens and officials in mid-December. "This road needs to serve as the main route for central and eastern Utah and we need to do things to improve drivers perceptions, reduce congestion in some areas and to reduce fatal crossover accidents."
Many eastern Utah citizens can relate to the frequency of dangerous situations on the road, as many have a story about the "near head on" they were almost involved in on the highway. Those types of accidents are the most feared, because they are perceived to be the most deadly.
UDOT has done accident studies on the road and the main types of crashes do involve multiple vehicles; in fact 30 percent of the mishaps are accounted for in this grouping.
Close behind, however, are wildlife accidents, which account for 28 percent of the reported mishaps. Another group of common crashes involves single vehicles running off the road, and is recorded as 27 percent of the mishaps. Other kinds of crashes make up the other 15 percent of the reported crashes.
A four lane highway could reduce some of the vehicle to vehicle accidents, but more significant changes would need to be made to cut down all the mishaps by a considerable percentage. One of those things is a barrier between on-coming lanes of traffic.
At present the agency is looking at three different kinds of barriers to substantially reduce the cross over accidents. Because so much of the canyon is narrow, as well as the fact that cost and right-of-way issues could come into play to separate the on-coming lanes from each other enough to make a difference, the three methods under study are cable barriers, beam-guardrail barriers and concrete barriers.
Each of the alternatives have good and bad points. Concrete barriers are great at preventing head on crashes, but create some horrible problems when snow needs to be removed. Beam guardrails do not impede snow removal as much, but also aren't as good at preventing head-ons. In many aspects, cable barriers are the best, based on information UDOT has made available.
Another area of concern, particularly for those that must pass through the canyon regularly, is the location of the Peerless Port of Entry. Slow moving trucks in that area, either getting on or off the road, have created some bad hazards over the years.
"It is apparent to everyone that the Port of Entry is a problem," said Jacobs. "There are a number of alternatives, but no one is sure which would be the best yet."
Some of the ideas that have been tossed around to solve the Peerless problem is to build another port somewhere else on the road where stations could be included on each side, using a mobile unit rather than a fixed station or using it in conjunction with the fixed station, or more in tune with the electronic age, abandoning the Peerless entry point and putting in a virtual port that uses computer and wireless technology.
Finally, UDOT is presently considering what to do about game crossing accidents. From 1991 to 2000 there were 1,118 reported collisions with wildlife along the Highway 6 corridor. UDOT is considering several options to solve at least some of this problem in various places along the highway. Those options include two big game overpasses, 17 big game underpasses, a number of miles of new game fencing (like that along the road between Consumers and near Helper on the west side), two wildlife stream crossings and two predator underpasses.
Obviously these considerations are only a few of the problems and solutions that must be evaluated in the total picture of the Highway 6 corridor.
Comments on the impact analysis may be submitted by going to the UDOT website at www.udot.utah.gov/US6 or by calling (801) 281-8892 and asking the project team to send a comment sheet that can be submitted by mail.
The draft EIS will be issued sometime in the spring 2004 at which time the public will be allowed to review and comment upon it.