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Advisory panels assist commission, residents

Sun Advocate community editor

One stretch of road in Nine Mile Canyon clearly shows what happens when a magnesium chloride surface experiences a blowout and comes apart due to heavy vehicle traffic. Numerous locations on the roadway through the Nine Mile area have incurred similar damage.

Improvements to the road through Nine Mile Canyon has been under discussion for a long time. But in the last few years, the talk has become more specific.

Improving the road without destroying the canyon is the question on the mind of people involved in the Nine Mile advisory committee.

The advisory panel was formed a few months ago to help officials from Carbon and Duchesne counties plan and develop an improved road in the canyon.

"I think, to begin with, we need to prioritize the areas that need the most help on the road and work on those," pointed out Carbon Commissioner Bill Krompel at a committee meeting Tuesday. "We need to look for solutions and approaches to move forward on this."

Starting from United States Highway 40 in Myton to U.S. Highway 6 in Wellington, the road stretches more than 60 miles. Much of the surface is gravel or dirt and only about one-fifth of the road has pavement.

Vehicle usage on the road in Nine Mile has increased significantly. The increased usage stems from not only the climbing number of tourists visiting the canyon, but heavy duty traffic from the industrial, timber and gas field development companies operating in the area.

"This road will need a permanent type surface because just treating it like a normal gravel road will never work," said Krompel. "We have tried putting gravel on it and the heavy traffic grinds the rocks into fine dust, which permeates everything. There are times, in some areas on the road, that the soft dirt and dust are so thick that motorists almost need a four-wheel drive to get through it."

Officials must decide not only where to start the improvements on the road, but how to obtain the money to complete the project.

Basically, there may be three possible funding sources for the canyon road project.

A local source would be the Carbon County Recreation and Transportation Special Service District. Duchesne County also has a similar entity from which officials could possibly draw money from as well.

The second alternative is a state source, the Utah Permanent Community Impact Board, to which the counties could submit a joint funding application.

Finally, federal revenues could be available for the project if officials are able to play the counties' cards correctly.

"There is a chance federal funds could come our way if we can get the road designated as a road that needs federal aid," explained Krompel, who talked to Utah Department of Transportation about the situation. "But even if that happens funding is probably a long way off so we need to look at what we can begin with sooner than that."

Federal funds generally come with strings attached. One thread would certainly be environmental clearances on the areas where construction would be done. The length of time it takes to get money to do federal projects could also be a problem. Krompel pointed out that it took Carbon County three years to get the amount of money needed to begin construction on rebuilding Carbonville Road. That project may finally begin sometime this year.

But before any group can ask anyone for money to work on the road, plans must be made and defined. And to do that the two counties need to establish right of ways, do some basic surveying and have some engineering done.

"The fact is we can do nothing until a survey of the route for the road is done," said Steve Tanner the co-chair of the advisory committee. "Maybe we could use special service district money for that purpose to get the project going."

That survey could be done in a different way than most people would suspect however. Most would expect to civil engineers with transits and GPS equipment out in the canyon working. But Ben Clement of the counties geographical information systems suggested that it could be done from the air with the right equipment, and Evan Hansen, the county engineer took the suggestion one step farther by suggesting a firm that could do that kind of work.

"Once done we would then have the information for the entire road that we could use today and then in a few years when we are ready to move toward more projects on the route," said Hansen.

The width of that survey in the canyon was also a point of discussion as well. One of the problems the county has is defining the right of ways in the canyon. In many places the widths for those are unclear. The road was once a state highway, but was turned over to Carbon county by the state in the 1960s. In those days, it seems, specific right of ways were not as exact as they are today. In some places it may be a couple of hundred feet wide, while in others it may be less than 50 feet. For this reason exact width of any survey would be determined when the specifics of the project are adopted.

With that in mind the group also thought about in what areas actual construction should be done when a plan is in place. Some in the group had some specifics, others were more general in their suggestions. But any of that would have to wait until money is available.

Questions, however, still remain on what kind of surface would be put on such a road. No one envisions a paved road from Myton to Wellington as a realistic goal; the cost to do that could run between $60 and $80 million, and that kind of money is unrealistic to expect from any agency or any group of agencies. But finding a surface that would work on the road is a challenge that will be hard to come up with.

There has been some discussion about tar sands from the area around Nine Mile being used, but that is still up in the air. And while some of the companies that are working in the canyon have been using magnesium chloride on the road to keep the dust down, there are a number of problems with that treatment too. Officials say time, weather and hard use depletes the coating fairly fast.

"I'm not sure I am all for the use of mag chloride anyway," said Carbon County road supervisor Ray Hanson. Many others in the assembled group also talked about it's short comings such as that when a road gets wet the substance becomes very slick and as well as concerns about it's long term impacts on the environment and water drainages.

In the next month the group will be working on getting an estimate on what an aerial survey would cost, if they can get the road designated as a federal road and if they can gain support for funding from the states congressional delegation and from some energy interests in the area.

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