The response of the community to the public hearing the Utah Department of Transportation held in Price a couple of weeks ago was very impressive. Community members swarmed the displays and talked with many of the representatives of the division as well as the Highway Patrol troopers who were present.
It was a good move by UDOT and I think it also showed how much they are concerned about the road that runs through our little corner of the state.
But between the meetings and information, we can't forget the purpose of the whole thing; to make US 6 a safer place to drive. Certainly it is up to UDOT to make this road as safe as they can with the funding they have. That is their charge as a state agency.
But the biggest part of keeping this road safe lies on the citizens who use the road whether they be from Carbon County, Emery County the southeast part of the state or anywhere else in or out of Utah. Few roads are so dangerous that prudent driving would remedy most of the accidents that happen. But that is just the problem. In this day and age of seemingly making someone else responsible for everything that happens to us, it is difficult to get people to understand that what happens to them is often their own fault rather than a flaw in a product or a system.
Looking at some of the issues that came up during these meetings makes a point of the problems that UDOT faces from the public at large.
First of all, they hoped that some recreationalists would visit the meeting in Moab, since it was held during the Easter jeep safari week in that town. Yet only 20 people showed up. But recreationalists are always that way. They seldom take time away from their regular lives to attend any kind of meeting for something such as this, and heaven forbid that they should take time away from their actual recreation to do it. What perplexes me is that the actual citizens of Moab didn't respond in larger numbers to this chance to comment. While many of them go to Grand Junction to "visit the big city," more still have to drive US 6 to get to Salt Lake, where many have family, business and political ties.
UDOT offered a cafeteria of choices for improvements at the meeting, including everything from signage to four lane highway improvements. Over the past two years I have done extensive research on this highway, both from the perspective of the distant past and the present, and I have found some things that are very interesting.
First of all, four lane highways or sections of highways don't always cut down accidents or even fatalities necessarily. So many people in Carbon County think a four lane highway would solve all the problems of this road, but it would not. Most highway experts agree that when two lane roads are changed to four lanes, divided or not, the accident rate or some types of accidents certainly decrease; but as a seemingly necessary function of the way people drive others increase.
A great many of the accidents that occur on US 6 involved two or more vehicles; head ons, glancing blows, being forced off the road, etc. Four lane roads, particularly divided ones, have more one car accidents; roll overs, cars that run off the road, etc. It is pretty much agreed that when a road is increased to four lanes speeds increase, and in all but one crash category that UDOT documented on Wednesday night the largest factor in accidents on US 6 is speed. The conjecture is, of course, that if the road was changed to a four lane all the way, the accident rate for certain kinds of accidents would go down, while others go up.
Other questions also have to be asked about some of the proposed improvements that UDOT is thinking about. Now remember, none of what was done at the meeting is set in concrete, UDOT was only throwing out ideas for the public to think about.
First is wildlife crossings. Last fall the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources put some guzzlers and drinkers on the west side of US 6 between Helper and Carbonville to try and keep deer from crossing the road in an area that has one of the highest hit rates in the state. At this point it remains to be seen whether these have been effective because an actual study has not be done. According to Brent Stettler of DWR, the division will probably be doing a study next winter. This may be part of the solution to "deer hits" on this section of road, but the other part could very well be creating wildlife crossing areas. This supposedly allows drivers to be on their toes for only a half mile or so rather than for miles and miles looking out for deer and other large animals.
However, some say these crossings don't work very well. In fact some animals do get onto a four lane road and then can't get off again and get mowed down running up and down the road trying to get off the highway that has them fenced in.
Signage was another possible improvement. The signage that UDOT has put up so far has really helped. For instance the signs that say "passing area in 2 miles" I believe have cut down the number of people trying to make dangerous passes because they know there is light at the end of the tunnel when they are following a slow motorhome or big rig.
But those are informational signs. It seems people take to those better than they do regulatory signs such as "No passing zone." It seems many individuals either want to take issue with these types of signs or think the message doesn't pertain to them as a person.
Right now we have double yellow lines, blind corners and even other vehicles in the oncoming lane in the canyon and that doesn't seem to deter those that want to from passing where they shouldn't. No passing zone signs would have little affect without more enforcement.
Everything that UDOT is considering makes sense, but that is just the point. Often peoples driving habits and their propensity to only think of themselves and their schedule make little sense to everyone else. Unfortunately drivers get caught up in their little world and until they are shook out of it, they pay little attention to anything but "are we there yet."
I personally think that a big billboard at each end of the canyon that looks like one of those beer advertisements would do more good, especially for those from out-of-state who seldom drive this road. The sign could say something like "Unless you obey the road rules you might not see the other side of this canyon" or "The road through this canyon is one of the most dangerous in the US" would create more interest in tired drivers trying to get to their destinations.
What we really need is something that will scare the hell out of 'em before they drive toward the summit
The main problem with US 6 is the drivers, not the road.